So you’re hunting for a bed….. not a “replica” or “reproduction”, and you want to know where to start. You should first know that there is no comparability between an authentic old antique iron bed and a reproduction. They are constructed very differently, the reproduction being produced with aluminum castings and thin wall tubing and the original having been manufactured with thick wall tubing and hand poured iron. There were a limited amount of the originals made, and like beach front property, when it’s all bought up……. the prices will sore. The originals are disappearing at an alarming rate and the prices are climbing even faster. So hesitating is not the greatest strategy, when shopping for any antique.
You perhaps have seen an old iron beauty in a friends home or in a designer magazine, possibly your favorite celebrities home was photographed and there in their master bedroom sat a beautifully restored antique iron bed. So you ask yourself, can I afford something like that. Well the answer is yes. But how do you establish what’s a good price to pay. It’s not easy to comparison shop for an old iron bed because of their rarity and the countless designs there were…… some having been produced in such small numbers that only a few have survived till now.
So here are some of the factors that you should take into account when shopping for a bed.
The 1st factor: Tubing size. Most beds have a couple of unique size tubing employed into their design. But there are a couple of places in the design which can make a substantial difference in what a bed is really worth. An iron bed will have either 7/8″,1″, 1 1/8″ or 2″ diameter tubing on the sides that will come up from the floor. The interior design is normally constructed with 3/8″, which is the most widespread, or larger 1/2″ solid rod…. which was normally used on stronger more substantial designed beds. There are some rare occasions where unusual size tubing was utilized by small foundries back in the 1800’s. But generally speaking, the sizes I mentioned were more common. Now here’s where you want to pay close attention……. what size goes across the top of the head and footboard? If the size tubing that comes up from the ground transitions into a smaller 3/8″ or 1/2″ solid rod when it turns at the corner and goes throughout the top……the bed is not going to have the structural stability that a design does with the same size tubing across the top as it does on the sides. In other words a “thinner gauge” design isn’t going to be valued as much as a thicker tube bed.
The 2nd factor: Design. A bed with far more curves and scrolling was far more tough to construct in the 1800’s, than something that didn’t need hand bending tubing and rods to develop a design. Straight line beds with few curves only required the tubing and rods be cut to the right size, before the molds were put on and the iron poured. Flowing Victorian and Art Nouveau Styles, usually required curving the tops and entire interior design. Some beds didn’t have one straight piece of tubing or iron rod in their design. So the craftsmanship and time employed in building a “fancier” bed frame wasn’t something all foundries possessed. Though simpler designs surely had a large market, because of their price…….. it’s the more curved and scrolled models that convey the higher prices today, simply because of their scarcity.
The 3rd factor: Castings. Why are they termed antique iron beds? Simple…..the ornamental pieces that hold the distinct rods and tubing together, at all the connecting joints, are known as “castings” or “chills”, as they were referred to back in the 1800’s, and these were made of cast iron. That iron was in it’s hot molten liquid form when it was poured in to sand cast molds. The quality of an iron bed can usually be determined by the detail and quality of the castings the foundry used in making a bed. Generally the more simplistic the castings…. the simpler the design of the overall bed frame. But the better more collectible beds were made with beautifully detailed castings. Flowers and stylized Victorian or Art Nouveau designs can quickly elevate the value of a bed frame. Also the quantity of castings certainly help. The more castings there are means there are more connecting joints of iron tubing and rods, thus the design is busier.
The 4th factor: Side Rails. This is one of the most crucial things to contemplate when buying a bed. So pay close attention or a uncomplicated thing like the “improper” pair of side rails for a bed, can make what would seem to be a good deal on a bed…… a terrible deal. Back in the 1800’s there were virtually thousands….yes thousands…… of modest independently owned foundries that made iron beds. Quite a few of them would duplicate the designs they made, from larger more successful foundries in metropolitan areas like Chicago or Pittsburgh. Many of them also had their own unique designs that contribute today to the vast array of never ending styles and their scarcity. Sadly, all of the foundries use to form their own side rail molds and even though they were very similar in looks, their taper and conical shape was distinct enough so they weren’t interchangeable between foundries and other beds. So before you commit to the purchase of a bed frame……examine the side rails to make completely sure they fit perfectly. Otherwise you could end up with a headboard and footboard that are leaning at odd angles or are so loose, your head and footboard will wave in the wind like a flag. Never buy a bed that doesn’t have a pair of rails or believe a dealer that says you can find a pair elsewhere that will match. They obviously don’t know what they’re talking about.
So now your prepared to go out into the market place and make an educated decision. The only one of these 4 factors that has no “wiggle room” in establishing the value of a bed frame, are the Side Rails. All the others have some margin in their importance.
The only problem you may experience now……. is finding a bed to use these factors on. Acquiring them is whole other story….. Stay Tuned.