Tent or Field Beds
Field beds, or tent beds, while originating in Europe, probably reached their highest level in the America of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Philadelphia group of craftsmen began making them in around 1780 and their manufacture spread to other towns and rural areas rapidly remaining a favourite for at least a generation.
Tent beds are distinguished by their arched tester and canopy and have their origins in military campaign furniture. American cabinetmakers and woodturners tended to give the turned upright posts a subtle vase shaping, the foot posts being often further decorated with reed or spiral turns, on occasion the head posts also received the same treatment. In a futher move away from the square models of yesteryear legs of field beds were also turned in later years.
Headboards remained fairly plain, sometimes curved into a wide arch on the upper edge or sloped to a central point like house rooves. Canopies were carved in either a flat arch or a double, self-duplicating curve from head to foot post. Antique tent beds were usually made of mahogany, or native hardwood, or even pine.
In height most were sixteen to twenty inches from the floor to mattress while country made examples were built with side rails up to twenty-six inches high.
For antique collectors it is comforting to note that many old field beds remain in existence, in varying conditions of course and often without the original canopy intact.
The field bed showed what could be done with beds design and the trend towards more decorative features continued in the Hepplewhite and Sheraton inspired Duncan Phyfe beds.