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Jenny Lind Beds: Jenny Didn’t Really Sleep Here

by Fred Taylor (02/18/14).

The bed on top is generally called a Jenny Lind bed, but the bottom bed is the true example of the form.

A lot of curious and spurious information has polluted the modern vocabulary of antique furniture in the last 100 years. Some of this was done inadvertently, some through ignorance promulgated by people who say a lot more than they really know and some of it through commercial attempts to establish a brand name or just to increase sales.

One of the most egregious events was the introduction of the name Governor Winthrop to the form of the bookcase secretary.

As I noted in this space in my column Flights of Fancy—Imaginary Names, the good governor lived almost 100 years before the form was invented and he certainly did not own one.

The vocabulary was poisoned by the Winthrop Furniture Co. of Boston in 1924 when it introduced a new model of bookcase secretary and called it “The Gov. Winthrop.”

The name was picked up by wags and has been used improperly ever since.

Another common rewriting of history surrounds the ubiquitous spool-turned beds with rounded shoulders that seem to show up everywhere. Even baby beds and cradles are made in that style. And, of course, they are commercially and generically and mistakenly called “Jenny Lind” beds.

Johanna Maria Lind was a Swedish opera singer born the illegitimate daughter of a bookkeeper in Stockholm in 1820. Her mother ran a girls’ day school, and very early on she noticed her daughter had an unusually fine singing voice. At age 9 she auditioned for and was accepted to the Swedish Royal Theater School. By the next year she was singing onstage, and by age 17 she was featured in the Royal Swedish Opera, having picked up the nickname “Jenny.”

On a tour of Denmark in 1842, she met the famous writer Hans Christian Andersen, who fell madly in love with her. She inspired him to write three of his famous works: “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Angel,” and “The Nightingale.” The last eventually led to her second nickname and stage name, “The Swedish Nightingale.”

Throughout the 1840s, she toured Europe and was the toast of the musical continent, but she was essentially unknown in America, even though she toured in a production in 1845 and 1846 sponsored by American showman and promoter P. T. Barnum.

By 1849 Barnum decided she should tour America, and in 1850 she signed a contract to do just that for $1,000 per performance, plus expenses, for 150 concerts.

By September 1850, she had renegotiated the contract and received her $1,000 per performance plus a cut of the profits of the hall. Pretty heady stuff for the 1850s.

Barnum actively promoted her tour, and she was a great success with the American public by the time she returned to Europe in 1852.

Lind’s legacy includes tributes to her all over America and Europe in the form of place names of towns, parks, chapels, a locomotive, clipper ships, pubs, works of art and everlastingly in a certain style bed.

She became fond of a particular type of spool-turned bed during her visit to America, and almost immediately spool-turned beds and cribs were affectionately called “Jenny Linds.”

The problem was that most of the “Jenny Lind” beds and cradles were not the same as the one she slept in, according to historical records. Most of the so-called Jenny Linds were simply spool beds made popular by the Elizabethan Revival of spool-tuned furniture in America 1825 through 1865, aided by the invention of the multiple cutting-head lathe.

The spool bed with the rounded shoulders appeared after 1850, and it is doubtful that Jenny ever saw one of those. Early spool-turned beds had solid headboards with sharp corners and spool-tuned posts and spindles in the footboard. They were rope beds held together by iron bolts through each post into the rails.

By the 1830s these beds were assembled all over the country using factory-made, mass-produced turnings. This is the kind of bed that kept Jenny Lind happy.

So the wrong type bed became known as the Jenny Lind and is consistently one of the most popular style beds sold in America today.

On the other hand, who really cares except furniture purists like you and me, right? If you call that style bed a “duck” and everybody completely understands which bed you are talking about, it really doesn’t matter.

Communication is the key. So the “Jenny Lind” bed can be placed right along with the modern “Duncan Phyfe” dining-room set, the “Beau Brummel” vanity, the “Colonial” rocker and the “Gov. Winthrop” bookcase/secretary, and it will be right at home.


Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or e-mail them to me at info@furnituredetective.com.

Visit Fred’s newly redesigned website at www.furnituredetective.com and check out the new downloadable “Common Sense Antiques” columns in .pdf format. His book “How To Be A Furniture Detective” is now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.

Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 shipping and handling) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800.387.6377 (Monday through Friday only, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time), fax 352.563.2916, or e-mail info@furnituredetective.com. All items are also available directly from the website, www.furnituredetective.com.

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