The earliest antique bed you are likely to see to buy will date from the 16th century. Paul Beedham, the fourth generation owner of Beedham Antiques, explains that the way to tell the quality of the bed is the calibre of the timber and the quality of the decoration.
‘It’s a quirk of history that the English standard bed has always been around 54in wide – the same width as the standard double mattress,’ says Paul. This means that, generally, an antique bed will fit a modern mattress width-wise though it may need attention on the length. ‘If you are fitting a mattress to a tester bed, which are commonly though incorrectly referred to as four-posters, get one adjusted to have the L-shaped cutouts that allow for the posts at the bottom. Do bear in mind that many older beds will already have been stretched in the 19th century to accommodate a standard mattress.’
It’s better to get a custom-made mattress as it won’t affect, and therefore devalue, the original bed. If you do need to adjust the bed itself, reputable dealers such as Paul work with independent restorers who they can recommend.
‘As far as care goes, as long as you regularly dust them and give them an occasional wax, beds should stay in good nick,’ says Paul. ‘If you have a tester, make sure you get on stepladder and vacuum the top once in a while.’ When buying an antique bed, ensure they have been treated for worm and, if it has one, that the canopy fits properly. ‘You don’t want it falling on you in the night!’
For a 17th century tester bed you can expect to pay anything from £5,000 to £6,000 for one that has been altered for today’s use. True originals can cost anything upwards of £10,000. For a 19th century bed, you are looking at between £3,000 to £5,000, though something extra special could cost £10,000 or more.
Know your beds
- Daybed: Interchangeably used with the term ‘chaise longue’, a daybed is a couch that is long enough to seat a person and support the legs.
- Four-poster: A bed with four individual posts rising up to support a fabric or fabric-lined canopy.
- Full tester: A tester, unlike a four-poster, has a fully solid headboard and two end posts upon which rests wooden, sometimes cloth-lined, canopy.
- Futon: A padded mattress placed directly on the floor that used as a bed. It originated in Japan.
- Half tester: The canopy of a half-tester bed only covers half of the bed from above and so does not have the two supporting end posts.
- Lit en bateau: An uncovered bed that originated during the French Empire, it has scrolled head and footboards and curved sides in the shape of a boat.
This guide was originally commissioned by and published in Homes & Antiques‘ March 2016 issue.
To download the original version of this article, and other collector’s guides, visit www.homesandantiques.com/feature/antiques/collectors-guides/how-look-after-antique-bed.