This beautiful, although incomplete, wash set was donated to our collection in 2018. It was made by Knowles, Taylor & Knowles Company of East Liverpool, Ohio, around 1890.
At that time the company was the largest manufacturer of white granite plain and decorative ware in America and famous for its Lotus Ware line of intricately decorated and hand painted porcelain. Our set is decorated with pastoral scenes of shepherds watching over sheep.
Sets like this one were essential bedroom accessories for people without indoor plumbing and were manufactured in great numbers.
They were usually placed on wooden washstands and full sets often consisted of a large bowl and pitcher, a soap dish set, a toothbrush holder, a cup, a slop jar and additional pitchers for water.
There is a misconception that Victorians rarely washed; they just didn’t wash the way we do today. Although wooden tubs, sitz tubs or cast iron clawfoot tubs were available to some people, the average person proceeded with a sponge bath immediately after rising.
Victorian soap didn’t dissolve well in cold water, so a hot bath was not a realistic daily habit. Instead, people poured water into the basin on the washstand using a pitcher and washed their hands, arms and faces at the basin with a sponge or a piece of flannel. Once a month they indulged in a warm bath that required more preparation and the boiling and carrying of water, chores done by servants in households that could afford them.
After washing, the water from the basin, as well as the water used in the brushing of teeth, was poured into the slop jar and emptied outdoors. The chamber pot, which was usually kept under the bed or in a washstand, was emptied into an outhouse.
Although many American homes still did not have running water at the turn of the 20th century, great technological and medical advances of the Victorian Era brought cleanliness to the forefront.
Personal hygiene became more important than ever and today an average American showers daily.