Spool Beds popular in Jane Austen's time

illustration by julia rothman

Our Jane Austen, had probably spent a night or two in a spool bed, as they were a very popular type of furniture style during her time. The spool bed, named for its resemblance to sewing spools, is also known as a Jenny Lind bed.

Here is a short history of Spool Beds in America:

Colonial Furniture The favorite tool of colonial woodworkers across America was the lathe. In England, 16th century woodworkers left hardly an inch undecorated on furniture pieces and while their American counterparts were more modest, they were still enthusiastic about the technique and turned wood became emblematic of colonial style. Although wood turning had been practiced by the Romans, it was virtually unknown in Medieval Europe and had only been newly rediscovered by those 16th century woodworkers – which explains their ardor for the new style!

spool-turned bedframe, ca 1875 via Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database

Spool-turned furniture in 19th century America After years of languishing in attics, spool-turned furniture came back in fashion in about 1840 as part of the colonial revival. Only this time, it had a little help from technology. Before 1820, all wood turning was done on a lathe that was operated by a foot treadle – the process was slow and arduous. The new 19th century American-invented power-driven lathe used steam power – the craftsman worked at guiding his cutting chisels. This made it much easier for the colonial look to be mass produced.

[image above, from top: first appearance of jenny lind in america, at castle garden via the new york public library digital gallery and jenny lind in 1850 via the library of congress]

Spool-Turned Beds Named for Jenny Lind OK – so why are spool-turned beds called Jenny Lind beds? Celebrity infatuation is not a new phenomenon and the “it” girl of 1850 was Jenny Lind. Jenny Lind was a Swedish singer who made her debut in America in 1851 for a P.T. Barnum production. At the time, Lind was widely popular in Europe and Barnum created a 61-stop tour all across the U.S. for her before ever even hearing her music! Ever the genius promoter, Barnum helped manufactured a Jenny Lind craze – there were Jenny Lind hats, gloves, pianos – even Jenny Lind tobacco – and of course, furniture. The Jenny Lind bed was supposedly the type of spool-turned bed that the singer slept in throughout her tour. A true Jenny Lind bed has square solid corners on the headboard.

woman inspecting a spool bed at the michigan farmhouse auction, 1938 via life magazine

Dating and Placing spool-turned beds

The earliest spool-turned beds have long straight lengths of turnings because that was initially the easiest style to produce
1830 – headboards and footboards about the same height
1850s – spool-turned furniture was made with rounded corners because spool-turners developed a method of bending the spool turnings.

Midwest and Southern spool beds have a tall-posts (somewhere from 5 1/2 feet to 7 feet high) and were made from maple, walnut, cherry, poplar, cottonwood and mahogany. If the wood had an attractive color, it was left natural but pine and other softwoods were stained or painted.

Facts to Know
Jenny Lind beds were once used at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Books to Read

Thanks to Design*Sponge for photos and article.

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