Before it was common for homes to have indoor plumbing, washstands were a fixture in many bedrooms. These simple pieces of furniture originally held a water pitcher and bowl for washing hands and faces, but there are lots of ways you can use antique washstands in your home today. Some vintage washstands can even be quite valuable, so it's good to know a bit about how to identify these pieces.
Learn to Identify an Antique Washstand
Because washstands are no longer made, it can be a little tricky to identify them as you browse in antique stores or online auctions. These tips can help.
Know What a Vintage Washstand Looks Like
A washstand isn't a large piece of furniture, typically ranging from the size of a small dresser to the size of a nightstand. They have a top surface usually made of wood or marble that's designed to support a wash pitcher and bowl, and they sometimes have a cut-out area allowing the bowl to be recessed into the surface. Many also have an attached backsplash to keep water from staining wall coverings behind the washstand.
Many antique washstands also have integrated storage in the form of drawers, shelves, or cupboard doors. Because these pieces needed to do double duty in many smaller homes as end tables or large nightstands, they needed storage to accommodate the wash pitcher and bowl, as well as towels, soap, and other necessities. You'll also see antique washstands with mirrors attached.
Determine How Old Your Antique Washstand Is
Although they may date back thousands of years in some form, the traditional washstand was made in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are a few clues that can help you tell how old your vintage washstand might be:
- Style - The shapes and types of decoration used on your vintage washstand can help you identify its age. Familiarize yourself with antique furniture styles so you can get a sense for time period. For example, an antique Victorian washstand, which would date to the last half of the 19th century, often has ornate details.
- Hardware - Antique furniture hardware can help you determine the age of your washstand. Carefully examine the knobs and pulls, hinges, and even the nails or screws used in construction. Many pieces from the early to middle 1800s, for instance, used nails made of wrought iron.
- Wood species - Take a moment to look at the type of wood used in your antique washstand. Although there are always exceptions, it can help with dating. Mahogany and walnut were popular during the 18th century, cherry and maple during the 19th century, and oak during the early 20th century.
Look for Labels and Identification Marks
An important part of identifying antique furniture is looking for labels and identification marks from the manufacturer. Check the back and bottom of the washstand to see if there are any marks. You may also find stickers or labels on the underside of drawer boxes or underneath the top surface. These can tell you who made the piece, and that will give you some clues about when it was made.
Find the Value of Antique Washstands
If you have a vintage wooden washstand you would like to sell or are considering purchasing one, being able to assign a value to your furniture is essential. Most antique washstands sell in the range of $200 to $300, but there are many characteristics that can make them more or less valuable.
Factors Affecting Antique Washstand Values
Like all antique furniture, washstands can range in value depending on a number of factors:
- Style - Washstands with a solid top surface are often worth more than those with recessed areas for a bowl. This is because those without recessed areas are more useful in a modern home.
- Condition - Antique washstands in good condition are worth more than those with scratches, splits, and other damage. Original hardware and finish can also add to the value, especially since these pieces often received hard daily wear.
- Age - Older vintage washstands are worth more, with examples from the 1700s and early 1800s selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Those from the early 20th century are worth less because they are more common.
- Beauty - The wood species, carvings, hardware, and style of a washstand can also affect the value. Those made of rare or especially lovely woods are worth the most.
- Craftsmanship - A washstand made with high quality craftsmanship is worth more than one that is cheaply made. Look for solid wood instead of veneer and quality joinery like dovetailed corners.
- Part of a set - Many antique bedroom sets included a washstand as part of the ensemble. If you have a complete set, that can enhance the value of the washstand.
Example Values for Antique Washstands
To find out how much your washstand is worth, compare it to similar examples that have recently sold. Look for a washstand of the same age and wood that's in similar condition. Only use sold values for comparison, since retailers can ask more than a washstand is actually worth. Here are some examples of washstands that have sold recently:
- A circa 1890s washstand made of quarter-sawn oak sold for about $450. It had dovetailed drawers and was solid wood.
- An antique Victorian washstand of burled walnut and marble sold for about $425. It was in excellent condition and featured ornate details and a beautiful appearance.
- An 1840-era washstand made of burled walnut sold for about $370. It was in partially restored condition and needed work, but the age and beautiful craftsmanship made it quite valuable.
- A small antique washstand dating to about 1900 sold for just under $200. It was made of oak and was a simple style.
- An antique wooden washstand with a recessed area for the bowl sold for about $100. It did not include the pitcher or bowl and was the wood frame only.
Where to Buy and Sell Vintage Washstands
Although online auction sites sometimes include listings for washstands, they are usually limited to local pickup. This is because shipping antique furniture is expensive due to the size and weight. Washstands with marble tops can be especially heavy. However, you can find antique washstand for sale locally at thrift stores, antique shops, and in local classified ads.
Selling antique furniture locally or online is about figuring out what kind of washstand you have, getting a sense of its value, and presenting it in a way that's attractive to potential buyers. Again, because of shipping expenses, you have the best chance of getting a good price if you sell your vintage washstand locally.
Using an Antique Washstand in Your Home
When it comes to decorating with antiques, a vintage washstand can be a beautiful and functional choice. You can use washstands with recessed bowls as plant stands. Washstands with flat surfaces are even more useful, doubling as nightstands, end tables, console tables in your foyer, and much more. You can also use these pieces for storage in the bathroom. No matter how you use them, antique washstands have timeless appeal.