An antique dry sink is a functional piece of furniture from 19th century America and earlier. Dry sinks were the equivalent of modern-day sinks but without the convenience of indoor plumbing. It was essentially a wooden cabinet on which rested a water pitcher and basin. The top of the cabinet was recessed to prevent spillage and water damage to surrounding areas while washing or shaving.
Usually dry sinks were made of pine but in wealthier homes they may have been constructed from alternative types of wood. Pricier dry sinks had the recessed area on top lined with copper or some other waterproof material. Generally, there was a storage area underneath and a hook or bar on which to hang a towel. A Victorian-era antique dry sink might be level on top rather than recessed, with a marble slab across the top on which the pitcher and basin would have been placed.
Dry sinks were typically found in the kitchens and bedrooms of homes in the 19th century and earlier. They were used extensively before the advent of indoor plumbing and were considered to be an indispensable kitchen accessory. An antique dry sink would have been used for everything from washing dishes and vegetables to bathing and shaving. Water for dry sinks was used sparingly as it had to be carried in from outside and heated on the stove if hot water was needed.
Today, antique dry sinks are used primarily as decorative home accessories although it is possible to find fully functioning pieces for sale. An antique dry sink can be used for a variety of purposes in the modern-day home: bathroom vanity, bar, nightstand, side table or table for potting plants. Antique dry sinks are valued from around $100 all the way up to $6,750 for an original pine circa 1830 dry sink.
Finding Antique Dry Sinks
Most local antique stores should have the occasional antique dry sink in stock. It may be possible to find them at yard sales; especially estate sales where the entire contents of a house are being sold. Genuine antique dry sinks can be challenging to find; but one can generally be found quickly on the Internet. Websites like RubyLane.com, Tias.com and eBay offer a generous selection.
Dry sinks are among the most reproduced antiques on the market. Dishonest dealers or craftsmen can take a newer piece, strip it with lye or paint remover, refinish it with stain, varnish or oil and “distress” it by sanding the corners and beating it with a mallet to give the appearance of increased age. Another technique involves using reclaimed wood to build a dry sink that seems old. Check the dovetail joints in the drawers; a genuine hand-carved piece will have dovetails that are not exactly the same and newer pieces will have even machine-cut dovetails. Look for curved lines on board ends made from a circular saw and nail holes plugged with plastic wood or putty that may have been used on reclaimed wood.