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Treasures: Headboard, footboard of ‘sleigh bed' may be mismatched

The headboard and footboard of this bed don’t appears to match.
The headboard and footboard of this bed don’t appears to match. TNS

Q: I am attaching pictures of sleigh beds, which I have been told are hand-carved, solid mahogany and very old. I have the rails, etc., for each of the beds and all they need are mattresses. Can you give me some history and a value?

C. E.

A: Before we address the particular beds, let us take a whack at defining exactly what a sleigh bed is.

It is said that the only type of bed that Napoleon Bonaparte would have in his palaces was sleigh beds. These were based on Roman beds, whose existence was discovered in archeological digs around Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Sleigh beds had high headboards that curved upward and rolled outward at the top in a scroll-like form. The footboards echoed the headboard, but were generally a bit lower, while the side rails were low but tended to embrace the bedding.

Initially, sleigh beds were designed as daybeds and for one person. Examples from the early 19th century were often made from wood veneered with mahogany. This was a style popular during both the French and American Empire period (late last quarter of the 18th century and first quarter of the 19th), but their popularity continues to this day.

These beds were designed to look like a horse-drawn sleigh, and they appear to be very cozy. Alternately, they are sometimes called “boat” beds.

Now, we need to turn our attention to the specific beds in today’s question, and we will start by saying that they are not sleigh beds in the traditional sense. The headboard does not have the correct profile, but much more telling is the low footboard, which would be completely out of character for a classic “sleigh” bed.

We were not shown the side rails in the photographs, but we suspect that they do not quite match the style found on most antique sleigh beds. We are also disturbed by what we see in the photographs because the wood in the headboard does not seem to match the wood we see in the footboard. There is a significant difference in both color and grain — but photographs can be deceiving.

We are also disturbed by the stylistic differences between the headboard and the footboard. The headboard is very restrained with a swag drape, while the footboard has reeded columns topped with half spheres and smaller full spheres on top of that. The feet of the two pieces are also very different, with the footboard having modified ball feet and the headboard having straight feet.

From the photographs, these look like parts of two different beds. The headboards appear to have been twin beds in the French style from the second quarter of the 20th century but are mismatched with the footboards that are shown. If this is the case, the value is negligible.

Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email treasures@knology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.

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