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"Combined Commode and Household Receptacle." Patent no. 42216, filed by Charles Hercule Damase Sincennes, 1893.

 

Patent no. 42216. Filing year 1893.

"Combined Commode and Household Receptacle," Charles Hercule Damase Sincennes

The Japanese word chindogu, which, literally translated, means "unuseless tool," was coined about 20 years ago to describe inventions that appear to be useful but prove to cause more problems than they solve. Eye protectors for chickens, a rotating fork that automatically winds your spaghetti, the portable lamp-post, and Swiss Army gloves are all examples of these "almost useful" inventions that have developed a cult following in Japan and beyond.

The "Combined Commode and Household Receptacle," patented by Montréaler Charles Hercule Damase Sincennes in 1893, could be described as a 19th-century Canadian example of chindogu.

Indoor plumbing and flush toilets were gaining ground in Canadian cities by the late 19th century, but the majority of people in rural settings still relied on the outhouse (or privy) and chamber pot. Sincennes' dedication to organization and efficiency must have spurred him to develop this enhanced commode; presumably he expected to encounter a ready market.

The commode featured a front compartment, containing a chamber pot, and rear compartments to hold boots, shoes, and other household objects. The top of the rear compartment flipped over onto the lid of the chamber pot, and a boot block mounted on the lid allowed one to polish one's boots -- right over the chamber pot.

It's hard to know what Sincennes was thinking. Even before the public hygiene movement of the late 19th century, it wasn't customary to combine commodes with other objects. Sincennes seems to have been sensitive to this, as his urinal lid had an "air tight" rubber seal and the compartment had a small shelf for deodorizer. The rear compartment, he specified, was for "boots and shoes, blacking brushes etc. (which are not affected by possible odours)" -- not an entirely credible claim.

In terms of unuselessness, Sincennes' commode may not be on a par with the solar-powered flashlight, but it's a good try.

References

Hardy, Jean-Pierre. "Personal Hygiene in Canada, 1660-1835." Oracle: A Journey Through Canadian History and Culture.
www.civilization.ca/educat/oracle/modules/jphardy/page03_e.html#commodes
(accessed November 1, 2005).

Kawakami, Kenji. 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Japanese Art of Chindogu. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.

Levy, Joel. Really Useful: The Origins of Everyday Things. Willowdale, Ont.: Firefly Books, 2002.