January 15, 2020

18th century toilets for the true book lover


You can learn a lot about a person based on the reading material they have in their bathroom. Gossip rags, a dictionary, a few unfinished reads, or (gasp) … nothing. Basically, the link between reading and being on a toilet have been intertwined for centuries. Name a more iconic duo. I’ll wait.

Toilets have been through countless revisions—from a hole in the ground to heated toilets that sing in Japan. In a great version of a TBT, Jessica Leigh Hester over at Atlas Obscura was kind enough to take us down memory lane to the 18th century with photos of vintage toilets that were made to look like books. Was it because they were bookworms? Or was it for aesthetic purposes? We might never know, but it leaves something to admire for the eyes (and not the nose). 

In some of the photos provided by Atlas Obscura, you can see that the book toilets (is that what we shall call them?) are almost a type of camouflage in a library. Another example is a very handy portable book toilet, it folds! How nifty. 

The next question to reflect on is whether or not these 18th century literary potties actually contained book passages. The poor individuals who had to “inspect” these contraptions for telltale “stains.” The final question remains—were these items meant to be a gag? Did it add to the decorum of a home? 

I like to believe that John Waters’s infamous quote about books has to do with toilet reading material.



Andréa Córdova is a publicist at Melville House.