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What to Look for When Buying an Antique Iron Bed

At the time of their origin in the early 19th to 20th centuries, antique iron beds, like all furniture at the time, were hand made by artisanal craftspeople. Craftsmanship was something people took great pride in back in the 19th and 20th centuries, as tradesmanship, particularly that involving the production of goods, was regarded as not only a skill but an art form.

Due to their age, antique metal beds, though their style is timeless, are still subject to the flaws of early industrial materials and time, including the use of lethal lead paint. If you’re inspired by the elegance of 19th-century style and don’t want to deal with 19th-century problems, here are a few things to look for when shopping for an antique iron bed.

Broken castings or frame
One of the most difficult repairs to deal with in an antique metal bed is broken castings. Castings, or “chills” as they were referred to in the early 1800s, were an intricate design element in early craftsmanship of cast iron beds. Castings and frames fuse together the structural integrity of the bed, rendering them one of the most important elements of bed quality. If an antique metal bed has a broken or cracked frame or castings, this could be a sign that the bed was either poorly made, poorly repaired, stored improperly, or a victim of degrading quality that comes with age.

Loose spindles and castings
Castings are simple or decorative components produced by heating molten metals then pouring them into a mold that secures the frame posts and spindles together. Spindles are plain rails or decorative turnings. If you examine the castings or spindles of an antique bed and discover they’re not entirely fused or noticeably loose, this significantly depreciates the value of the bed and are difficult to repair.

Pitting in the metal
Pitting is a type of corrosion in metal that forms small holes over time. If you notice pitting (or minuscule, rust-like spots) on an antique bed, it’s a sign that the metal of your iron bed has begun to degrade with age. Make sure to look closely for this type of damage.

Imperfect castings
Imperfect castings are a sign of either shoddy craftsmanship or shoddy, haphazard repair. An imperfect casting may look smaller than the other castings or may be shaped differently.

Lead paint
If your antique metal bed was produced prior to 1977, it’s almost a guarantee that it has lead paint. In the 1800s, lead paint was used on virtually all furniture, especially iron beds. Lead paint, unfortunately, was discovered to cause cancer, kidney problems, nervous system damage, developmental delay, reproductive problems, heartburn, abdominal pain, and even irritability among residents after exposure.

Frame requires non-standard size mattress
Many antique beds in the early 1900s were not made according to today’s standard sizes (queen, king, double, full). If you are looking at antique iron beds you should measure the frame to ensure it fits a modern standard size mattress. If your bed frame requires a non-standard size mattress that must be custom-made, you may be in for an unexpected expense.

Missing parts
Missing parts such as bed frames, slats, finials, bolts, and screws can be difficult if not impossible to replace in antique beds. It’s important to pay careful attention to the quality and condition of antique metal beds. Their unique benefits also come with unique considerations. Your purchase process should be as thoughtful as the craftsmanship of the bed you’re ready to buy. But there’s always the alternative of a new iron bed made with antique molds to get the look you want, a standard size, and the exact finish you need!