Antique Massage Table: History & Buying Tips

Updated January 12, 2022
Massage Platform now converted into coffee table

The art of giving a good massage has been around for a long time, as you can see by the many examples of antique massage tables. Learn about how these tables have changed over the years.

History of Massage Tables

Massage has been around for thousands of years. For almost as long as people have been giving massages, they have been using tables to support their clients. Massage tables as we know them have only been around for about 100 years, but previous eras used similar furniture to achieve the same purpose. While you probably won't find an ancient Greek massage table in the antique store in town, it's fun to know a little about the evolution of this piece of furniture.

  • The ancient Greeks used a version of a massage table from about 800 B.C. to about 150 B.C. These tables were made of marble or wood and were used in gymnasiums. These early massage tables were called "plinths."
  • Between about 300 B.C. and 475 A.D., massage was popular in the Roman Empire. Plinths were also used for this practice, and massage was often performed at the palatial baths.
  • The Victorians also performed massage. They used furniture-like massage tables called "couches." These couches were very heavy and were generally upholstered with leather or fine fabrics. They were usually stuffed with horsehair or sawdust.
  • In the early 20th century, massage tables began to look more like traditional medical exam tables. They were made of hardwoods, often oak, and featured a padded top that was usually stuffed with horsehair and upholstered with leather. Some early massage tables featured a vibrating surface.
  • The next generation of massage tables, used in the years following World War I, was usually made of domestic hardwood and stuffed with cotton, sawdust, or straw. The table covering was usually made of an easy-to-clean early form of plastic.
  • In 1930, the first portable massage table was created. These early portable tables were heavy, but they featured high quality materials and excellent workmanship. By the 1940s, lightweight, portable tables had become popular. Many of these were constructed of aluminum and plastic.
  • It was not until the later 1940s that massage tables began to feature cutout face holes. It took several decades before the current horseshoe-shaped face cradle came into existence. Today's portable table with a horseshoe cradle was created in the 1980s.

Where to Find Antique Massage Tables

Many old massage tables are still usable today. They may need some restoration work, especially if they feature upholstery. Here are some of the best places to find old-fashioned massage tables:

  • Local classified ads - Because shipping these large items is expensive, check classified ads often to see if you can find an antique massage table.
  • Estate sales - Some estate sales include massage tables, particularly those where someone received home health care.
  • Hospital auctions - When they get new equipment, hospitals sometimes auction off older models of massage tables.
  • Craigslist - Check often to see if your local Craigslist has any antique massage tables, since this will save you shipping.
  • Auction sites like eBay - You can sometimes find massage tables on eBay, but they can be very expensive to ship.
  • Antique stores - Although massage tables aren't easy to find at antique stores, you can ask your local shops to keep an eye out for one.

Tips for Buying a Massage Table

Antique massage tables can be an investment. They range from a few hundred dollars for a portable vintage model to thousands for a genuine antique in good condition. If you decide to purchase an antique massage table, keep the following tips in mind:

  • If the table is upholstered, check the filling. The upholstery filling will help you date the table, since early tables used natural materials like horsehair and sawdust. Ensure that the filling is in good shape or that it can be replaced without hurting the value of the piece.
  • Consider having the table appraised by another source. Larger antique pieces like massage tables can vary a great deal in value. It's important to confirm that you're getting a fair deal.
  • You may want to use an antique table as a display in your massage clinic. These tables can be a fun and nostalgic way to decorate a modern business.

A Health Care Device With a Fascinating History

The art of massage has been around for centuries, and it's still an important way to connect and relax. Whether you choose an antique massage table or a modern example, it's fun to know a bit about the fascinating history of this health care device.

Antique Massage Table: History & Buying Tips