No, not a gravy boat, though it would make a very pretty one.
This is a bourdaloue, once the salvation of many a lady caught with a full bladder in a public place. The only problem was, having used it she needed someone to empty it for her. If she didn’t have a maid I suppose she could have slipped it under a chair and nonchalantly kicked it over with the toe of her dainty slipper.
I find it interesting to see things that were once a part of my daily life becoming collectable antiques. I was born too late for a bourdaloue but not for a chamber pot. Growing up in a house with no indoor plumbing it was an essential item under every bed. Mine was pink. My parents had one in blue and white willow pattern. The unenviable job of emptying them each morning fell to the females of the house. When you were deemed old enough to empty your own gesunder you knew you’d really grown up.
Gesunder was one of its several affectionate names. As in ‘gesunder the bed’. ‘Jerry’ had a similar etymology, during and after World War Two. Po (from pot-de-chambre) was the favourite in our neighbourhood, which caused a lot of stifled mirth when we did the rivers of Italy in school.The chamber pot wasn’t a very hygienic thing but by the 20th century it was at least used in the privacy of the bedroom. Up to the 19th century gentlemen, full of claret and ready to progress to the port, depended on finding a po in the dining room sideboard, though of course they’d only use it after the ladies had withdrawn. Why, you may ask yourself, didn’t they go to another room relieve themselves? What, and risk missing a bit of gossip or a good joke?
Writers of historical fiction sometimes get berated either for bringing 21st century sensibilities to their creations, or for not doing so. Personally I’m in the ‘tell it how it really was’ camp. And the bourdaloue is a good reminder that spending a penny hasn’t always been a private affair. I wonder, by the way, how long the expression ‘spending a penny’ will remain in circulation. On Horsefair Street in Leicester sixty years ago a penny used to buy you a very comfortable call in a spotlessly clean cubicle. Nice warm wooden seats too. Those were the days. As for bourdaloues - named by the way, after a French priest famous for his bladder-testingly long sermons - they are now collectors' items. And chamber pots look very nice planted with geraniums.