The Old Out house

| July 2004

Who thought old privies would ever be worth more than their value as firewood? Yet it's true. Those spider web-filled, fly-infested, steamy, uncomfortable, odiferous outdoor toilets of yesteryear are now worth big bucks! We aren't talking about bad plywood reproductions or fiberglass port-a-potties, but bona fide 'antique' outhouses with moss-covered shingles and barn wood siding.

Only the real McCoy

To be collectible, an outhouse should be as least 50 years old, preferably with hand-carved, oval seat openings and a crescent moon cut in the door (the moon signified a ladies room, while a star or a sunburst pattern was for the gents - boys often preferred a secluded corner in the barn).

Not too long ago, the average farmer demolished his family outhouse soon after his new Sears, Roebuck & Co. chain-pulled flusher was installed. Today, times have changed, and preservationists, decorators and antique dealers from coast to coast are restoring old privies as fast as they find them.

Theme park developers, campground owners and interior designers were among the first people to realize the magnetic appeal of old outhouses. Privies that were once routinely burned or recycled are now sold to the highest bidder. Landscape architects are moving many of these quaint folk-art edifices into the back yards of wealthy clients who use them for poolside cabanas or quaint garden tool sheds.

With older privies becoming increasingly scarce, a thriving cottage industry of privy reproductions has developed with prices ranging from $900 for a simple one-holer, to $3,500 or more for a fancy Victorian replica - complete with cupola and weathervane.

Postcards, books and paper collectibles

The least expensive outhouse collectibles are those corny, but loveable, color postcards from the 1930s and 1940s. These artistic renderings often depict city slickers in awkward situations, which a bearded farmer ingeniously solves - usually with a keyhole saw. The most prolific publisher of comic postcards was the Curtis Technical Co., who printed a 10-card series called 'Rural Relief.' The average price range today for such cards is $1 to $5 each.