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Commode, Europe, 1831-1900

With the lid shut, this object looks like a piece of ordinary household furniture. In fact it is a discreetly disguised toilet called a commode. The lid reveals a seat, underneath which a chamber pot would have been placed and emptied after use. It is unclear what the metal container in the lid is for. Most likely it was a container for toilet paper or perhaps a ‘sliding’ – an antiseptic powder box. The commode would have been owned by a wealthy family for use by an elderly or sick relative, or it may have been used in a hospital.

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Glossary: chamber pot

Bowl-shaped container with a handle, used as a urinal at night. Chamber pots remained in common use until the 1900s when inside water closets replaced them. They are still used in countries where indoor plumbing is rare.

Glossary: cabinet chair

A piece of furniture that conceals a chamber pot. Used as a toilet.

Glossary: antiseptic

A chemical that destroys or holds back the growth of bacteria and harmful micro-organisms. It can be used to cleanse skin wounds and treat some internal infections if it is sufficiently non-toxic.