Antique Dry Sink: Common Uses in the Past and Present

Updated November 17, 2021
Place to the toilet in the old style

Adding an antique dry sink to your home is a quick way to give it a vintage look without taking up too much space or having to complete expensive remodeling. Whether you love primitives or Victorian design, you can find a dry sink that'll fit right in.

What Is a Dry Sink?

Black Distressed Vintage Dry Sink Cabinet

Dry sinks were used to hold the pitcher and wash basin that were standard in any well-equipped home during the 19th century. You might find a dry sink in the kitchen or bedroom area, and more than one farmer's wife kept one on the back porch.

The dry sink was a cabinet similar to an antique washstand with a recessed area on top. More expensive dry sinks had these areas lined with copper or other waterproof materials. The recessed area kept the water from the pitcher and bowl contained while someone washed up. The dry sink also had storage areas where extra towels and personal items could be kept. Generally, there was a hook, bar, or other device to hang up the towel.

Dry sinks were often made of pine, but in more affluent homes, any wood might be chosen. During the Victorian era, the tops of dry sinks might have been level rather than recessed, and had a slab of marble across the top for the pitcher and basin to rest upon. These stylized examples give off a distinctively decorative flair.

How to Spot a Fake

Unfortunately, dry sinks are among the most copied antiques out there. Unscrupulous dealers can create an old or primitive dry sink from a new one in a matter of hours. By stripping new pieces, repainting, sanding, and using various techniques for distressing, the dry sink can be made to look well worn to any novice collector. Other techniques include using reclaimed wood to build dry sinks that end up looking old. However, there's nothing actually wrong with this practice so long as the item is clearly presented as a reproduction.

So, how can you spot a fake? The very first things you should look at are the dovetail joints in the drawers. Reproductions will have five or more dovetails that are even and machine cut. Old pieces will normally have three and they'll not be exactly the same. There will be some small differences in the shapes and the way that they are cut. It will be obvious that these are hand carved.

In addition, the collector should check the ends of any boards that they can see. If the wood has been cut with a circular saw, there will be swirls in the cuts. To detect use of reclaimed wood, just look carefully for nail holes and areas where the nail holes have been filled in with putty and stained over.

How to Estimate Your Dry Sink's Age

Rustic Antique Dry Sink Maple Spindle Legs and Pine

While dry sinks were most popularly manufactured during the 19th century, you can find examples of these unique pieces of furniture up into the mid-20th century. Given these pieces' specific function, eyeballing their age can be a bit more difficult than it is with things like light fixtures or automobiles. Yet, there are a couple of different characteristics you can use to give yourself a ball-park range of what time your dry sink was created.

  • Look over the design elements - Design elements can indicate a specific art style, and thus hint at different periods. Things like pure woodwork and little ornamentation can describe sinks from the late-19th and early 20th centuries, while things like painted cabinets and a farmhouse style can describe sinks from the mid-century. Ultimately, the devil's truly in the details.
  • Check for maker's marks - Maker's marks are one of the best ways to date a piece of furniture, as you can use them in a variety of ways to deduce age. Many manufacturers changed their marks over time, and so this specificity of design can be used to pinpoint a specific date or series of years that your piece was constructed.
  • Check the quality of materials - Unfortunately, furniture quality tended to drastically degrade as the 20th century went on. This means that genuine hand-crafted, dovetailed, high-quality wood dry sinks are most often found from the 19th century, with mid-century examples being thinner, cheaper woods and appear with less ornamentation.

Where to Find Dry Sinks

Dry Sink Mahogany Lift Top Antique Washstand Cooler 19c

Almost any local antique store will carry a dry sink sooner or later as furniture is in constant demand at these businesses. Rarely, you can find one or two of them at a thrift store, but this is pretty unlikely. If you happen to live near a historic section of town, you can also keep an eye on garage and tag sales; many times people will clear out everything during an estate sale because going through everything is too stressful.

If you want to find one quickly, your best bet is to look online. Some sites to consider are:

  • eBay - One of the best places to find these pieces of antique furniture, eBay makes it easy to hunt down the dry sink of your dreams. It's also perfect if you're thinking of selling as they have a super easy e-commerce functionality and reach a significant number of people around the world.
  • Etsy - Often, people find these dry sinks in their grandparents' homes around the country, meaning that online platforms like Etsy are some of the best places to find loads of these pieces available.
  • Ruby Lane - Admittedly, Ruby Lane is a bit more limited in the number of dry sinks that are available at one time since their auction pool comes from more traditional means. However, since they're one of the largest auction houses on the internet, it's always a good idea to keep checking their inventory to see if they have what you're looking for listed.

Remember to ask lots of questions and be sure that you understand the seller's return policies since you're always going out on a limb when you buy an item you can't personally investigate. Always read any feedback that's been left for the seller so you can get an idea of their sales ethics. Keep in mind, though, that these dry sinks can be large and heavy, meaning that they're difficult to ship. If you're worried about the inflated prices thanks to the upped shipping costs, you might want to look into sellers in your area and see if they'll accept local pickups. The amount of money you'll pay for gas is a fraction of the amount you'll end up spending on cross-country shipping.

What Gives Dry Sinks Value

Antique dry sinks' value increases with age, decoration, and rarity. In general, even weather-beaten and worn dry sinks are worth about $100, with nicer pieces increasing in value into the mid to upper hundreds. Of course, those that near the thousands come in near pristine condition (they are mostly unrestored) and have some sort of unusual quality, like a rare manufacturer or design feature. Interestingly, age seems to play a significant factor in demand, with the classic medium-toned wood dry sinks from the 19th century selling in greater numbers than more stylized designs from later years.

If you're looking into buying or selling a dry sink, then it's good to have an idea of what types of dry sinks are currently in demand. Here're a couple of different dry sinks that've recently sold on eBay to give you an idea.

Decorating With an Antique Dry Sink

Vintage wash stand dry sink restored floral cottage garden coffee bar buffet

This type of furniture is so versatile that you can add it to almost any room without difficulty. It can be a nostalgic addition to a large country kitchen, piled high with cookie jars and other collectibles. In a Victorian bedroom, it looks just right with a pitcher and bowl, and can even be transformed into a bathroom vanity as well.

Other uses for antique dry sinks that might fit your way of life better include:

  • Night stands
  • Side tables
  • Kitchen counters

Sink Into These Useful Antiques

Dry sinks can instill a quaint country ambiance into almost any room that you put them in. Whether you want to find a dry sink to put the finishing touches on a historic restoration or you're thinking of retrofitting it with a modern flair to fit your 21st century home, these pieces of furniture can bring a delightful warmth to your space and serve whatever functional purpose that you need.

Antique Dry Sink: Common Uses in the Past and Present