That Old Bed Slapper

{Posted   19 February 2013}

  As you walk through an antique shop or mart, you come across many things that are interesting, but which baffle you as to for what purpose they were intended. Sometimes the age of the piece is the simple enticement to own the item; sometimes the design of the item entices one to buy it. Sometimes, as with the item shown above, the design, combined with the rich patina of age, captures the eye of the buyer.

  Although the two or three most recent generations of people would not believe it, at one time, beds did not have mattresses constructed of cloth, foam and other soft materials. Way, way back, a bed's mattress was constructed of a large, flat cloth bag that would have been filled with straw and feathers ~ more feathers than straw if you were lucky.

  The old mattresses were more comfortable than nothing (try sleeping on the floor for a while and you'll probably think a straw mattress is the most wonderful thing to have). A problem with the straw and feather mattress was that the materials would bunch up, making thick and thin spots. That's why the wooden object shown above, the subject of this post, was an important tool of the housewife.

  This object is called a bed paddle. The housewife would use the bed paddle to slap the thick, bunched up portions of the mattress in order to smooth it out a bit. You couldn't just grab the mattress and shake it ~ that would simply make the straw and feathers bunch up in different spots. The bed paddle was a tool that, although a little heavy, was easily handled by the housewife. As she slapped it down onto the mattress, the straw and feathers in bunched up spots would be forced to level out. So with four or five slaps of the bed paddle, the housewife would have the bed's mattress smoothed out and ready for the next night's (better than nothing) restful sleep.

  Notice in the photo below that this particular bed paddle was dated 1842.