past & present: spool beds + bedding roundup

illustration by julia rothman

Our Brimfield trip was so inspiring that I thought it might be fun to look at a frequent flea market find – the spool bed (named for its resemblance to sewing spools) a.k.a. Jenny Lind beds. Do you have a flea market find that you’d like to know a little about? Leave a note in the comments or send me an email! (amya at designsponge dot com) and I’ll do a little research. Happy flea market hunting!

spool-turned bed at Brimfield – see more finds here

Colonial Furniture
The favorite tool of colonial woodworkers across America was the lathe. In England, 16th century woodworkers left hardly an inch undecorated on furniture pieces and while their American counterparts were more modest, they were still enthusiastic about the technique and turned wood became emblematic of colonial style. Although wood turning had been practiced by the Romans, it was virtually unknown in Medieval Europe and had only been newly rediscovered by those 16th century woodworkers – which explains their ardor for the new style!

spool-turned bedframe, ca 1875 via Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database

Spool-turned furniture in 19th century America
After years of languishing in attics, spool-turned furniture came back in fashion in about 1840 as part of the colonial revival. Only this time, it had a little help from technology. Before 1820, all wood turning was done on a lathe that was operated by a foot treadle – the process was slow and arduous. The new 19th century American-invented power-driven lathe used steam power – the craftsman worked at guiding his cutting chisels. This made it much easier for the colonial look to be mass produced.

[image above, from top: first appearance of jenny lind in america, at castle garden via the new york public library digital gallery and jenny lind in 1850 via the library of congress]

Spool-Turned Beds Named for Jenny Lind
OK – so why are spool-turned beds called Jenny Lind beds? Celebrity infatuation is not a new phenomenon and the “it” girl of 1850 was Jenny Lind.  Jenny Lind was a Swedish singer who made her debut in America in 1851 for a P.T. Barnum production. At the time, Lind was widely popular in Europe and Barnum created a 61-stop tour all across the U.S. for her before ever even hearing her music! Ever the genius promoter, Barnum helped manufactured a Jenny Lind craze – there were Jenny Lind hats, gloves, pianos – even Jenny Lind tobacco – and of course, furniture. The Jenny Lind bed was supposedly the type of spool-turned bed that the singer slept in throughout her tour. A true Jenny Lind bed has square solid corners on the headboard.

woman inspecting a spool bed at the michigan farmhouse auction, 1938 via life magazine

Dating and Placing spool-turned beds

  • The earliest spool-turned beds have long straight lengths of turnings because that was initially the easiest style to produce
  • 1830 – headboards and footboards about the same height
  • 1850s – spool-turned furniture was made with rounded corners because spool-turners developed a method of bending the spool turnings.
  • Midwest and Southern spool beds have a tall-posts (somewhere from 5 1/2 feet to 7 feet high) and were made from maple, walnut, cherry, poplar, cottonwood and mahogany. If the wood had an attractive color, it was left natural but pine and other softwoods were stained or painted.

Facts to Know
Jenny Lind beds were once used at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Books to Read
American country furniture, 1780-1875 by Ralph and Terry Kovel

There’s a Bed in the Piano: The Inside Story of the American Home by Myrna Kaye – I used this book for the post on Murphy beds. It gives an inside look into the American home and pays particular attention to the development of furniture for the American interior.  I definitely recommend it!

CLICK HERE for a bedding round-up!

Pretty Bedding!
I couldn’t resist ending this post all about beds with some pretty bedding. I’m in love with the idea of doing a big mix and match with complementary colors – I’m loving grays and blue combos right now. (although those rainbow sheets from Nate Berkus are pretty awesome!) and I have to admit to fantasizing about an all-out girly bed! Ruffles – here I come!

[clockwise from left: waterfall ruffle duvet cover $148, new gate ash cases $70, striped print sheet set $29-119, gray calico $305-385 great plain pillow $195, stixx sheet set $19.95-89.95, felt button cushion $82]

[image above: if…then pillow $68]

[clockwise from left: azure fern sheet set $68-268 john robshaw indigo, tortoise needlepoint pillow $98 ombre ruched pillow $28  trellis sheet set $59.95, diller pillow $49.95 koko – murual throw quilt $162-378]

[image above: nate berkus starburst sheet set $49.95

  1. Tara R says:

    Hello, I’m trying to sell what I’m assuming a 1950’s Jenny Ling spool bed/twin size. Not painted and has side rails. Great shape. I need to know price to sell. Online I’m seeing painted twins for $250+
    Thanks :)

  2. Patty says:

    I have the headboard and footboard my mother bought these back in 1940’s and would like to know if they are worth anything.

  3. I have jenny lynn three quarter bed and I am moving and don’t how to take it apart! NEED HELP ASAP!

  4. Phil Dupuis says:

    I am trying to find the metal frame parts which attatch the bed frame to the bed rails
    Any ideas?

  5. Amy Mccarthy says:

    I believe I have a spool bed thats been in my house since I moved in, its been in the basement. I would like to send you a pic of it. If you respond I can txt a pic of it on my phone

  6. Meredith says:

    I have a dresser, night stand, and vanity I believe are Jenny Lind. They originally came with 2 twin beds. I cannot find any information about the other pieces, can you please help? Thank you.

  7. Meredith says:

    I have a Jenny Lind spool bed but I’m not sure of the age. On the footboard there is an iron horseshoe shape with the words Reed. June. 20. 71
    What does this mean?

  8. Kay says:

    I have a 3/4 walnut (at last that was what my mother always called the wood) it has a solid wood head board with decorative shape and spools for decorations across the top and all four legs are large spools both head board and foot board about 4′ high. The foot board legs are the same as the head board but has a large spool between legs and smaller spools run vertically between the top rail and lower bed frame. It has metal pieces that locks its side rails to the headboard and footboard. I am 67 years old and I slept in it when I was little and it was old even at that time. Do you have any idea as to age or value. I was raised in southern Illinois as did 2 generations back if location will help any.

  9. Darlene white says:

    I have a jenny Lind crib and I want to stain an old rocking chair to match it. Do you have any idea what the stain color should be?

  10. Lisa says:

    Hi, I purchased a spool bed at an auction for a few dollars. The family said it had been in the attic for at least 60 yrs! It is not a rope bed, but the rails are mortise and tenon. It is stained/painted black.I had a few people insist I research it before I sell it. One woman said her family donated one very similar to the Historical Society.
    Any way I can send you a picture??

  11. Jennifer says:

    Can anyone tell me if the bed in which President Abraham Lincoln died was a Jenny Lind bed?


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