Mr. Yue's bed-pandemonium

Auburn man finds beauty in refuse
By: Melody Stone, Journal staff writer
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One long-time Auburnite sees treasures where most people see waste. Richard Yue began collecting antique bedpans and urinals in the early 1980s. He started picking them up at flea markets. Eventually word got out about his unique collection and more Victorian-era dookie-tins came his way. Yue displayed the bedpans in the window of his bar and restaurant, The Shanghai, in Old Town until about 1994 when he packed them up and put them in storage. Yue recently decided to revisit his collection and pulled out about two-dozen dust-covered doo-doo collectors. “It’s something nobody else did,” Yue said about why he collected the piddle pots. “I’d see them at yard sales and I thought ‘I’ll just start picking ’em up.’” His collection features different styles of bedpans and urinals. Yue has a handled pair of “his and hers” tinkle-kettles. The opening for the male urinal is round while the female version has a wider-funnel-style mouth. Yue’s bedpans vary in style and functionality. A model, called “the slipper,” is wedge shaped for easier sliding into place. Some bedpans have lids and others have spigots for refuse dispensing. Yue’s collection also includes a large wooden box with a “thunder pot” inside. The box’s lid has a hole in the middle, reminiscent of a modern toilet seat. Yue said the box would be housed off the parlor in a Victorian house. Yue said it was so people wouldn’t have to go outside to relieve themselves. Why is the porcelain container within the box called a “thunder pot?” “I suppose you can make thunder in them,” Yue said. Some of the older porcelain urine pots are branded with flowery script, one of which reads, “Original ‘Perfection’ bed and douche pan — for home or hospital.” Yue said he’s never had to use a bedpan himself but collecting turn-of-the-century human-waste vessels has given him a profound appreciation for indoor plumbing. Although, he has an idea of which portable potty he’d use if the need arose. “Not having tried them out I would only be guessing,” Yue said. “I’d probably go for the wide-track model with a deep capacity. So you’re not so close to your work.” He’s also partial to the curled tube-shaped models with a removable-upper lip for easier cleaning. Yue said he’s spent upward of $90 on some of his specimens. There have even been pieces he passed up because they were too expensive. Yue’s not sure what’s next for his collection. He said he might see if the Gold Country Medical History Museum is interested in his plethora of pee pans. Ross Carpenter, Old Town Auburn Preservation Society president, said the museum doesn’t have much space but if Yue offered he’d consider accepting. "We don't have a whole lot of space and I guess the questions is ‘how many bedpans do you need?’" Carpenter said. "I recall some of them from the window of the Shanghai were rather unique." The museum currently has about six bedpans. Carpenter said people enjoy taking a gander at the artifacts. Yue enjoys the rise he gets out of people when they hear about his collection. “(Bedpans) have a little shock value,” Yue said. “Especially when you put them in the window of your bar and restaurant.”