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 :)


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