The first thing: is the size of the tubing. To be more specific, the size tubing going across the top of the bed. Nearly 85% of all the iron beds that were made back in the 1800’s had 1″ thick wall tubing on the sides. There are other sizes that were used…..1 1/4″, 1 5/8″ and 2″. Almost all of them were thick wall “black pipe” tubing. But the tubing that more often than not determined the value of a bed was the size tubing or rod size that went across the top. Thinner 3/8″ gauge rod across the top had degree of “flex” to it that not always fell as structurally stable as the same size tubing on the sides.
Second: The castings, their quality and quantity. The more detailed and unusual would denote a foundry that took pride in the beds they manufactured. More simplistic casting usually denoted a foundry that were more interested in turning out more beds than beds that had more detailing. The amount of castings is always determined by the amount of joints a bed has. In other words the amount of design work.
Third: Designs, although important, didn’t have as much to do with a beds collectibility and value as did the first two ….. tubing and castings. I’ve had incredible beds with nothing but straight verticals. Flowing designs throughout the interior are always more collectible if they have nicely detailed castings joining all the connecting points together.
Fourth: Height of the head and footboard. A taller head and footboard would mean you’re going to see more of it once a mattress and pillows are put in place. In a period when every little piece had a bearing on the “bottom line”, only the better foundries cared if their headboards were high enough to deal with things such as pillows etc.
Fifth: Finishes……It’s actually quite rare for us to come across a bed frame with it’s original pint job intact. Most of the beds we get have been painted over dozens of time, in the past 150 to 200 years. But occasionally we’ll come across a bed that has never seen a night outside. One that has been taken care over the years. Our custom antique faux’ finishes, all came from beds we’ve either seen or had that had an original old painted “finish” intact.
If you follow these five criteria regarding the value of a antique iron bed you can’t go wrong.