A bed warmer or warming pan was a common household item in countries with cold winters, especially in Europe. It consisted of a metal container, usually fitted with a handle and shaped somewhat like a modern frying pan, with a solid or finely perforated lid. The pan would be filled with hot coals and placed under the covers of a bed, to warm it up and/or dry it out before use.
After the invention of rubber, the classical bed warmer was largely supplanted by the hot water bottle, which is still widely used. In the early 20th century, electric blankets and then the electric bed warmer, (containing a lampholder and low wattage light bulb), were invented to fulfill the same need.
The term is also commonly used in the United Kingdom and Australia for a temporary sexual partner, or a relationship of necessity. This is not to be confused with Shunamitism, the practice of sharing a bed, but not necessarily engaging in sexual relations, with a young maiden, in hope that the shared warmth and moisture would delay aging.
- 19th Century Medical Caricatures. A detail in the upper right corner of the third caricature shows a bed warmer being used as a weapon.
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