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past & present: spool beds + bedding roundup

by Amy Azzarito

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

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  • What a fun post! I grew up in a Jenny Lind bed that my parents found in a barn and refinished and I cannot wait for our child to sleep in it.

    Q: does anyone have a resource for mattresses? Because of the unusual dimensions, I have had a difficult time finding a source.

    PS: Love those Nate Berkus linens @HSN!

  • Hi Barchbo,
    I grew up in a spool bed and have found that a local mattress mart maker was able to make a 3/4 mattress to fit as a special order. However bedding is troublesome… especially fitted. Try your local mattress mart maker first. Good luck!

  • I actually bought and read the book “There’s a Bed in the Piano” after seeing it mentioned in a past post here on design sponge. It is an excellent resource that explains so much about the history of furniture and interior design.

    Thanks for the recommendation :)

  • I grew up – and still sleep in – a spool bed (it was my first big kid bed after the crib). I remember being told that my great-grandfather made the bed for his bride, but my dad said that’s not true. Who knows.

    Mine is a standard full, but my parents have another that is smaller than a full and larger than a twin. They were able to get a mattress made by a local mattress company for a reasonable price (it’s a guest bed so it’s not super fancy).

  • Thanks so much for posting this article. I just saw the most GORGEOUS version of one of these beds at en estate sale (the poles went high to the ceiling! I was wondering about it’s history. You have inspired me to post the picture I took of the bed on my blog!

  • So excited to see this post! After scouring the Internet and thrift stores, I finally bought a Jenny Lind-style bed for my “someday” daughter last Saturday. Thanks for the great post on the timeless design with modern leanings.

  • Great post! Love the history and illustration by Julia Rothman too. Have just been learning to use a lathe- kudos to those medieval craftsmen who did it solely with manpower! Just beautiful.

  • I slept in a spool bed growing up…and wrote a book report on Jenny Lind (aka “the Swedish nightingale”) in 4th grade. i think i still have the homemade hand puppet of Lind who “read” the report in front of the class! thank you for connecting two formerly disparate parts of my past!

  • Thank you so much for this post & history. I live in the Caribbean, which has really cramped my flea market style (none where I live!) I came across a twin spool bed in a re-sale shop on island and they wanted $100! A STEAL for where I live. I snatched it up….even though my daughter was still several months away from such a big girl bed. The bed came from an old great house on island. I don’t have the heart to paint it just yet. I love it in its original, scuffed up state. I’ve had the bed for almost 2 years now and need a matching one for my son! Not gonna happen where I live. That was a once in a lifetime find for me.

    This style of bed will ALWAYS be a classic!

  • love the post and how timely. i did not know the history behind the spool bed. I am picking mine up tonight, purchasing it for $40!

  • I love spool beds! I’ve been looking for a king size forever. Does anyone know where to get a king size reproduction? They are so gorgeous!

  • i once bought a spool bed at a tag sale for $15.00 in terrific shape. i couldn’t believe my luck until i realized that the mattress needed to be specifically ordered to fit the dimensions of the bed. My $15.00 bed turned into a very expensive prospect!

  • My great-grandfather used to make furniture out of spools! This made me laugh, because I never realized it was a trend…just thought my Granddaddy was creative!

  • My sister and I shared a room all growing up. We had matching spool beds painted white. Mine was a bit taller as I am the big sister after all.
    Sweet memories!

    Thanks for the post!

  • Nice job on the Jenny Lind story and i love the photo’s. The beds are always found here in the North Country along with Jenny Lind trunks most however are 3/4 beds which need a special mattress to fit.

  • I always loved spending the night at my grandparents home and sleeping on the Jenny Lind bed. This has brought back such sweet memories for me.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  • Great article! We have a family spool bed that’s been passed down for generations. Never knew the history behind it all. Now searching for bookcase, cabinets and/or sideboard to go along with it in a guest room–any design ideas? Most of what is out there today is either modern or country!

  • ChemNerd–you can get great, solid pieces of furniture on Craigslist for so much cheaper than retail, you just have to watch. And older stuff is so much better made than most modern retailed furniture–unless you can afford thousands for a chest of drawers. Don’t go for a matchy-matchy look, or you can paint pieces and not feel guilty when the didn’t cost much. Whatever color you want: bright, pretty, antiqued, do an undercoat and rub off some of the top layer to get a two-toned vintage look. Then put great pulls or knobs on, there are so many out there these days, from colored glass to wood to metal. I’m dying to try a Union Jack paintjob I recently saw online on a chest I already have.

  • Great information! Thanks so much. I have an antique twin spool bed, but it is the frame only. Can you tell me if I should use a box spring as a base for the mattress? What do people use? If I just put a mattress on it, which would look best and show off the spools, it would fall through!

  • @ Carrie – Garnet Hill, Leonards Direct & ebay seller romike205 all do reproduction spool beds in king size!!! Various prices and woods but they are all beautiful….

  • I own 2 true Jenny Lind beds….one was my grandmother’s that was left to me and the other is one that I purchased off my sister’s mother-in-law. I need to find bedding for both beds. I cant seem to find sheets to fit the mattresses! any suggestions on where to find them?

    • I found that bed linen one size up from a twin fits great. When I was given my Jinny Lind bed my grandma gave me sheets made from flour sacks. The mattress on it was bought when it belonged to my great grandparents. Its label read that it was genuine horse hair and it cost $19.95. I bought a new made to order mattress from a mattress company in North Carolina. We experimented with different sized sheets and found the double size fit the best. You could make your own. It would not be too hard to measure. It would be the width across the top plus the drop on the side plus the amount you would want to have to wrap to the underside. The same for the length. I am getting ready to weave a bed spread for my Jinny Lind. I’m so excited about my new project.

  • I have two 3/4 size spool beds dating from 1830s, both lovingly hand finished natural wood that I would like to sell. I have the right size mattresses for both and some flannel and cotton sheets that go with them. Also, specially-cut sheets of 1″ plywood for under mattresses because the springs make the bed way too soft and hard on the back. The plywood gives lots of support while the mattresses comfort a sleeping body. My guests say they have slept like babies on these beds. Price: $750 each

  • I grew up on a twin spool bed in Maine and have the head and footboard in my attic. It originally had ropes instead of springs to support the mattress and the original mattress was small compared to todays mattresses. I made side rails that are offset to accommodate a modern box spring and mattress. If anyone is interested, I can drag it out for a photo. I am not sure what to do with the bed, I re-finished it years ago and it is in good condition.

  • I was just gifted an awesome spool bed this afternoon from a generous woman from my local freecycle.org group for FREE! It looks so classic and boy’ish in it’s original distresed state, but i’d like to sand and stain in a rich ebony and design my son’s room in a vintage baseball theme since he’s our baseball star in the family :-) This was a great post to stumble upon! Really awesome history on the spool bed! I am trying to determine if it is a true Jenny Lind bed since it was described above as true beds having “square corners”. I cannot locate a maker on the bed, is that pretty indicative of really early/original models? It looks to have been previously stained also. Can anyone tell based on the picture here: http://i17.photobucket.com/albums/b57/blessedsiah/DSC00457.jpg

  • Marissa – I have the EXACT same bed, but mine was my great grandfathers! I would LOVE to paint it teal for my daughters room, but I don’t have the heart to touch it! It was my bed growing up too. My husband HATES it and wants me to get rid of it, but I don’t have the heart for that either!

    I’d love more info if you ever find it! stacyjotiffany@hotmail.com

  • I’ve always wanted to know this! I slept in a Jenny Lind crib and never knew why it was called that or who she was!! Great explanation!

  • As a child I remember seeing these beds a lot more. I am searching my memory to figure out which of my relatives had one of these beds. They are so pretty.

  • While coming to research my bed, lest to me by my parents, I’m so happy to learn the history! When I was packing it to bring home (to my house of history) :) my dad said “mama wanted the newest style even though we couldn’t afford it, but I still spent the $8. Because I knew it would last”. It must have been a baby making bed since 3 children and one grandchild was conceived on that bed. And it’s not EVER getting a makeover. It’s an original, baby teeth marks & all – stay!! :)

  • I would love to get a price..i have a jenny lind bed dresser and mirror,chest of drawers and night stand ..all the same spindle style..please advise

  • I have 2 Jenny Lind twin bed with original wire springs and cotton mattresses I purchased them from an elderly lady about 25 years ago who told me she had them since a young mother. Never been refinished and in good shape other than a few scuffs. Does anyone know how much they are worth?

  • I’m trying to find a couple twin beds to refinish. Based on my searches most people are trying to sell them for about $150 on Craigslist. Found two listed for $250, but pretty fast away from me. Wish I could contact directly to discuss it.

  • I have a spool bench that was my parents. It is 5-6 ft. long in good shape. Any idea of the history or value?

  • I was attracted to this site because I have an old spool bed (complete) and the head and foot of its twin, missing the side boards. The side boards of both need(ed) work. I’m writing, however, because I have bought an old sideboard type chest that I’m curious about. About 5 and a half feet long, it originally had a tall piece that fitted on top of it with a mirror and some display shelves. I’d like to know more about the origin of the piece and especially information about the wooden box that sits inside the lower part of one side of the chest . The box has 4 sections divided by cross pieces that don’t go all the way to the floor of the box so it must not have been intended for loose goods. The freestanding box seems to slide into place under what was once an extra shelf, not found on the middle or other side sections. The inside of the box and the dividers are coated with something that is peeling off like metallic paint except that the coating is thicker than paint, like very thin metal (tin?) that bends in the fingers and holds its shape. I have photos. Can you tell me anything about this antique? Thanks!

  • What would be the value of a Jenny Lind solid wood, 38 year old, crib with solid head and foot? Need it for insurance purposes. Thanks

  • 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 :)

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

    • Most older beds side rails lock into headboard and footboard with a downward motion, so if you lift it should be able to be pulled out. It maybe tight, requiring a tapping, not aggressively, of a hammer. Besure to keep pieces straight as it can make removal harder. This is probably to late for you, but may help someone else. =)

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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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??

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