Behind the Scenes
In 2020, Dr. Bernard Kosto (a Hartford urologist and collector) purchased for the Didusch Center for Urologic History a beautiful 18th century French provincial fruitwood toilet chair ( chaise percée) at an online auction. The chair originated from the estate of Heidi Bingham Stott (granddaughter of Senator Hiram Bingham, discoverer of Machu Picchu), and features a padded seat, cabriole legs and a ceramic chamberpot.
La chaise percée ( pierced chair; other names include night stool or close stool) was an early portable toilet, often made in the shape of a cabinet or box at sitting height with an opening at the top. The external structure contained a chamberpot to receive the user’s excrement or urine when they sat upon it. The chair was covered ( closed) by a lid. Such stools were used from the 1400s until the introduction of the indoor flush toilet, invented in 1596 but not commonly used until 1851.
The chaise percée was kept in a well-decorated special room, the cabinet dépèches. An important member of a monarch’s courtiers was the groom of the stool, responsible for assisting the king in ablution. Princess Diana’s ancestor, Earl Spencer, occupied such a position.
And in case you wonder how this stool actually worked, here is an example of a similar toilet chair.
Bernard Kosto, MD