TESTER BEDS - FURNITURE
A tester is a canopy, and tester beds, or 'testers' A are popularly known as four-posters. despite
having only two free-standing posts, the head posts being the headboard uprights. A
development of earlier couch and wainscot beds, and of medieval
half-testers, these were the most impressive beds of the 16th and 17thC, challenged only by 'French beds' (fashionable about I 650.1700) which were completely covered in rich upholstery (and hardly
any of which have survived).
Testers themselves are exceptionally rare in I their original form; many were
remodeled or reduced in size when 'Jacobean' furniture was fashionable in the 19thC.
STYLE AND APPEARANCE
A standard, genuine tester-bed comprises: One Headboard, divided horizontally into
Two paneled sections and a deep frieze, the lower section (hidden by bedding) plain, and the upper section and frieze elaborately
carved. Paneled tester (or canopy) carved with repeated designs and bordered by a cornice and
carved frieze. 3 Bedstock, with interlaced , ropes to support the bedding. 4 Two foot posts, the lower parts in square section and the upper turned with columns above distinctive cup-and-cover
moldings. Cups were broadest on Elizabethan tester beds, more
vase shaped On later examples. As time went on, testers became increasingly 'architectural'. Carved linenfold and Gothic architectural motifs were gradually replaced during the
16thC by Renaissance designs which commonly featured arcading,
pilasters (sometimes in the form of terminal figures),
strapwork, lozenges, scrolls and full and half roundels.
Surviving examples are mainly oak. Occasionally walnut. Holly, box, bog-oak, poplar and sycamore used for inlay, joined around 1600 by imported ebony, ivory and mother-of-pearl.
Decoration is mostly carving, at its most exuberant on Elizabethan pieces. From around 1600, occasionally inlay of simple floral patterns, and traces of painted or gilt decoration.
Late Victorian reproductions are relatively cheap. Near-intact Elizabethan originals are very expensive. Later alteration need not affect value to a great extent.
BEDS THROUGH THE CENTURIES
From the Middle Ages until the mid-19thC, the beds of prosperous households were valuable items, symbols of their owner's status. Although the wooden framework became a feature, the rich fabrics suspended from their canopies were the tester's chief glory. Once these had deteriorated, the frames were generally replaced.
Most surviving beds from this period are of this grand type. (The majority slept on simpler versions, or on plain box or low post 'stump' beds.) During the first half of the 19thC countless wooden beds were destroyed in
favor of metal in an attempt to exterminate the ubiquitous bed-bugs.