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Photo Finish by Clint Kelly | Photos by John Keatley

Photo Finish: Please Be Seated, Nursing a Collector’s Passion for the Lowly Bedpan

Professor Emerita of Nursing Ruby Englund’s fascination with bedpans began years ago at a Seattle Pacific University nursing faculty Christmas party. The white elephant gift she received was one of the humble receptacles once employed in the service of the most basic human needs. What someone had meant as a jest instead piqued her interest in historic nursing ephemera, such as the vintage uniform shown here. Today she owns a collection of 45 bedpans of the older ceramic and enamel-on-metal type.

One bedpan bears the incongruous brand name "Relax," while another is imprinted with directions for incorporating flannel to warm the particular portions of the human anatomy exposed to the iconic toileting device. A third collectible is round like a donut. A fourth was fashioned for a small child.

While often the butt of deadpan bedpan humor, the lowly appliance has a long history of bringing comfort to persons confined to their beds. It even earns a mention in a poem attributed to Chinese calligrapher Huang Tingjian, penned almost 1,000 years ago during the Song Dynasty.