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Laura’s mystery tile-in bathroom receptor holder thingy — what is it?

mystery bathroom holderWhat is this mystery tiled-in bathroom receptor? Laura is stumped, and so am I. Do we have any experts out there who know for sure? 

Laura writes:

Hi!

I’ve lived in my 1920’s apartment 20 years and have periodically researched this thing in the wall, which I assume would be a toilet paper holder, but have not been able to find one similar online. 

I’d love to locate a piece that would work with it. Help appreciated! Laura

Wow, thanks! I can imagine the type of device that would go in but haven’t been able to locate anything. 

Laura followed up and clarified that inside, there’s about an allowance of about 1.5” on either side.

Inside a a 1920s apartment bathroom… the way it’s tile it, it looks original to me. What could this be?

  1. Laura in LaLa Land says:

    Wow, this is fascinating! I always figured there was a device that went in partially to hold a roll of toilet paper. My mind never conceived the notion of pre-roll TP.

    Thanks, Pam for posting and all who answered for solving this riddle! They’ve been working on my apartment recently and the workmen say mine is last one to have so many vintage touches. They want to take out French windows and replace with cheap sliding aluminum, gut my glass cabinets, etc. I LOVE those things and knowing souls through decades have used them.
    Thanks, everyone!?

    1. Danita says:

      Please take pictures of everything, for once gone, forever gone! Would hope you’ll be able to share your photos before the ‘wrecking crew’ comes in. Thank you.

  2. Carla says:

    On page 85 of the excellent book Bungalow Bathrooms by Jane Powell and Linda Svendsen is a photo of a “tissue holder” exactly like Laura’s mounted next to a 1929 sink. In the same book on page 34 is a photo of a display of “various brands of sheet toilet paper, incluidng Nabob, Sheplark, Victorian, Crescent and Blue Tint…” They appear to be just the right shape for fitting into this slotted ceramic wall holder. (Bungalow Bathrooms is an amazing source book for pictures and manufacturer information for bathrooms all the way up to the forties and fifties).

  3. Carla says:

    Also in Bungalow Bathrooms, in the text accompanying the photo of the various boxes of sheet toilet paper, Powell writes “Toilet paper first made its appearance in 1857, when Joseph C. Gayetty introduced ‘Gayetty’s Medicated Paper-a perfectly pure article for the toilet and for the prevention of piles.’ It was made from hemp. Throughout the nineteenth century, toilet paper was supplied in individual sheets, which were kept in a box that sat on the back of the water closet. After perforated toilet paper on a roll was introduced around 1880, new types of holders were designed to accomodate it. Tissue in sheets continued to be produced, but mostly fell into disfavor in the twentieth century.”

  4. MJ says:

    The makers certainly were discreet in their description of their papers’ purpose. Wouldn’t it be nice if we returned to the discretion and subtle advertising of earlier ages????
    And here we have one more reason for ppl to grow hemp!
    Amazing the same product that was used to make majorly heavy duty rope for the navy is also tender enough to be used on one’s nether regions! Thanks, Carla, for this interesting info.

    1. Evan Degenfelder says:

      If TP was once made of hemp, why did they stop? Just think of the trees that could’ve been saved. I mean, toilet paper isn’t the only thing that’s led to the decimation of our forests but. . .

    2. Bill says:

      Farmer stopped growing hemp after the market for it’s products disappeared due to better alternatives that were developed. Hemp was mostly grown for their long strong fibers that were ideal for strong cloth sacks to hold flour, potatoes, grains, etc. and strong rope. Hemp fiber’s downside is that it’ll support the growth of molds and mildew so went to rot fast. One of the largest buyers of hemp fabrics and ropes was the US Military who decided that they needed something better that would hold up longer during a protracted war in the hot and humid South Pacific. DuPont was already selling synthetic fibers (nylon and polyester) that were being used for weaving cloths and rope so the War Dept. had them make specific items from those to test. They held up well and wouldn’t rot so those replaced items made from hemp, cotton, wood and even painted steel since it quickly rusted in the humid salty air. The GI’s and Marines wound up wearing nylon clothing and boots with nylon webbing holding nylon backpacks and ammo pouches that got refilled from nylon ammo boxes so they could blaze away with their rifles that had nylon stocks. At the mess halls they got to eat potatoes and onions that were shipped inside nylon net sacks (same design we see today). Their naval and shipping vessels used nylon and polyester ropes, side nets, life preservers and more. The whole idea was to avoid shipping in replacements for those on a regular basis so the shipping had more room to carry other stuff that was quickly used up by the troops.
      Hemp products stayed in use during the war where rot and frequent replacement wasn’t a problem. Hemp hung in there for a while after the war then was dropped as a crop by farmers when once they hard time getting rid of their harvest. Then it became a nuisance weed that sprang up fields where ever it was grown before. It was so bad in places that the USDA would pay farmers for their fields’ projected yields so they could burn the weeds that infested the fields. The USDA did that quite a bit to farmland south of my hometown in NW Indiana. My Boy Scout troop earned money by cruising thru row of young corn to pull up hemp plants and toss them in a cotton tow sack for weighing since the USDA paid by the pound. Got to remember this was before pre-emergent pesticides were developed so was a common sight to see field hands moving thru the fields pulling out or chopping down various young weeds. Hemp was the dickens to get rid of if the plants were allowed to go to seed and drop them. The farmers hated the stuff so were the main force behind having it banned as a crop. I think there should be limitations on where it can be grown so it won’t create any problems as a wild weed while being grown as a short-lived trendy crop.

  5. Michael says:

    Square toilet tissue is still sold in France. My mother-in-law insists on it. It looks to me like about the same size as this holder. Maybe if you have a friend traveling across the pond they could pick you up a few boxes. It is cheap and light.

    It is in the TP section of large grocery stores, but probably only represents 2% of total TP stock, so look hard!

  6. Bill says:

    I’ve ran across those tissue holders in houses built in East Texas from the 1870’s to the early 1920’s. Was told by a lady that grew up in one built in 1920 that the flat tissue packages were popular since one could slip a package into a purse or suit pocket to have on hand if a retail establishment’s restroom was out of paper or had nature call when traveling out in the boondocks. I think Kleenex still sells tissues in small flat packages.

    1. DJ Sparkles says:

      Bill’s correct, and many of us still carry them! My mom always has a package in her purse, as I do when I travel, and I always have them in my car. When cleaning out my beloved step-mother-in-law’s house, there was a package in every purse (she was quite the lady!) Back in the day, women needed tissues for blotting their Love That Red lipstick, and a few other things we won’t mention, because we’re ladies and all. 😉

    2. Kristin says:

      Bill- those “portable tissues” are still sold, and extremely popular- in Morocco, of all places. It’s called “Tempo”. They’re sold on eBay for exorbitant prices. Don’t waste your money.

      I think- do not know for certain, that the slot is for magazines or- the catalogue everyone had in their bathroom in those days. Was it Sears & Roebuck? Montgomery Ward’s? This is my suspicion. The slot looks about the right size for one.
      Speaking of “mystery slots” on a very old episode of House Hunters, one of the potential buyers, a young lady, demanded an older home with a laundry chute. No chute, no buy. She “found” one- that had a chute in the kitchen. I knew it was no laundry chute but an ASH shute (it being in the kitchen, and the slot being rather too narrow for garments to fit through) but if I were the realtor, I’d have thought “Customer is always right” and let her believe it was a laundry chute. (PS, I know House Hunters was fake & the house already chosen by the buyer, FYI)

      This article and any homes from the ’20s: look for annunciator tubing or holes also. I would love to find an old home with those builtin, I suspect many very old homes already do, but they’re covered up from many past remodels and modernizing.

  7. Michael says:

    I wrote earlier about the square TP in France. I did a quick check on Amazon.fr (French version of Amazon). This product is available and can be shipped to US…at a cost…of course! Do a search for “papier hygienique plat” and it will pop up. The pink Moltonel comes in reasonable quantity. The white is an industrial amount! Cost is about 25$–which will last….a LONG time…LOL…especially if no one uses it! You can have it shipped–the “prioritaire” price will automatically populate–which costs 100$, if you go ahead and select the continue to purchase option, the last screen allows you to change from prioritaire to “rapide” which is about 30$…

    I used the site all the time–same company as US Amazon. If you have a US Amazon account, you can log into the French site with your US username etc. Takes all credit cards, PayPal etc…

    Would make for a pretty expensive bunch of TP…but it would certainly start a lot of conversations!

    1. Laura says:

      I would totally get if the device were still in tact that pushes them forward as they go. And I miss pink toilet paper! So miss that- considering a French order of pink TP for kicks.

  8. Jackie D says:

    Yes, the wall slot was meant to hold “interfolded” toilet tissue-for dispensing one tissue at a time similar to a paper towel dispenser. It’s still sold here in the states under various names. Aspect and Georgia Pacific are two brands still sold today. You can find them on Amazon mostly sold by the case.

  9. Mary Elizabeth says:

    I know also that in the 50s people smoked while in the toilet. This does not look like any of the built-in ashtrays I have seen, however. So I’m guessing folding TP is the answer. I ran across some in France in a dormitory in the 1960s, and it was very firm paper–sort of like butcher paper. We traveling students with tender tushes were warned to bring our own TP, so we brought it from the U.S.–took up half of one of my suitcases. 🙂

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