Sink and Urinal Combo a 19th Century Bathroom Curiosity
It seems highly unlikely that more than a handful of Mr. Jennings’ combined lavatory, urinal and sink fixtures ever made it out of the showroom on Beekman Street in New York City back in 1876. However, on the off-chance that one might show up on “Antiques Roadshow” and confound the experts, following is the description — and the rationale — for this unusual equipage.
“Experienced housekeepers know that the common arrangement of our present wash-basins, convenient as it is, has still a few objectionable features. They are: the hole at the bottom which frequently becomes choked up; the plug with chains, being metallic, soon becomes dirty-looking; the narrowness of the waste-pipe causes the easy accumulation of obstructions; and the usual absence of any traps, causes sewer gases to be often perceptible over the basins.” These objections, the editor notes, have been overcome in the combined lavatory, urinal and sink.
This piece of furniture is shown “in Figure 1 as it appears when closed and ready for use as a wash-basin or slop-sink, and in Figure 2 when open and ready for use as a urinal.”
The description continues: “The basin has no hole, or metallic connection in contact with the water, and is emptied by tipping it up, when the contents run in the sink under it, and accumulations or deposits at the sides of the basin are prevented. In this tipped-up condition it is a regular slop-sink provided with a trap, through which waste waters are at once discharged and carried away into the house drain, so that no smell or sewer-gas can escape into the building; for security the pan and trap are made of one piece, of earthenware, without joints. When the front door is opened (see Figure 2) the arrangement is adapted for a urinal, which would not be suspected when closed, as in Figure 1, when it forms a handsome piece of furniture which occupies no more space than a common washstand. These tip-up basins are also made without the combination of slop-sink, and in a sanitary point are far superior to the old style plug-basin.”
With that less than illuminating description as a recommendation — or perhaps in spite of it — it’s no real surprise that Mr. Jennings’ innovation isn’t a common household fixture today. But if one should come to light in a rehab job or tucked away in an ancient warehouse, at least we will know its intended use.
Courtesy of Cornell University Library, Making of America Digital Collection
The Manufacturer and Builder magazine. Volume 8, Issue 11, November 1876 pp. 259