The Hanscomes' Bed Warmer

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Amy Vach

Catalog Number: 1956.005.10

Throughout these cold Wisconsin winters, I know that at the end of the day I can go home to a pleasant, warm house.

However, during the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not as easy to heat one’s home.

Homes were damp and the beds were cold.

This is where the bed warmer comes into action. This brass bed warmer once belonged to one of the city’s founding families, the Hanscomes. The Hanscome family came to La Crosse in 1853 from Maine.

This bed-warming pan functions along the same lines as my electric blanket.

Warmed stones, coals or smoldering ashes from a fire would have once filled this pan. The hinged lid is punctured by a decorative pattern of holes that allow oxygen to feed the coals and keep them hot.

Once the bed warmer was filled, it was inserted between the bed sheets and moved about to warm and dry the bed for a cozy sleep.

The person using the bed warmer needed to be cautious and aware of the surroundings so that the bed would not catch fire.

Bed warmers have existed for centuries, with some of the earliest examples dating back to Queen Elizabeth I. Early warmers were made of silver, copper or brass and looked similar to this warmer from the Hanscome family.

According to Annie Hanscome, the bed warmer was used by her maternal grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Abraham Wendell Anderson in Gray, Maine, circa 1830.

The family was relatively well-to-do, and when Annie’s parents, Charles and Anna, came to La Crosse in 1853, they brought their prized family possessions with them. This warmer may have been used to help warm the beds in their family home in La Crosse.

Annie Hanscome was the last surviving member of her immediate family, and she made the home into a memorial to her family: It held many objects and furnishings accumulated and treasured by her family over the years.

In 1949, the La Crosse Tribune described her home as an historical family museum with objects dating to the Revolutionary War. Some of the objects were her parents’ wedding china, furniture and jewelry. Before her death in 1956, Annie Hanscome donated her treasured family mementos to the La Crosse County Historical Society.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 14, 2019.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.