The cradle has always occupied a special spot in the home. It’s the holder of some of our first dreams about the precious tiny human beings who’ve just come into this world.
The cradle is also one of the first pieces of furniture with which we come into contact in our lives–though of course we can’t clearly remember it.
For centuries, parents in countries across the globe have laid their newborns in little boxes or baskets that are raised off the ground on rockers.
This cradle of sculptured, gilded and painted wood was a christening gift for the future King Charles XI of Spain from the parents of his mother, Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp, in 1655.
Most of the time, Charles XI’s cradle is on display at the Royal Armory museum, inside the Royal Palace at Stockholm. It is still used during royal baptism ceremonies, the last time being on May 22, 2012, for Princess Estelle, who is second in line to the Swedish throne.
The living room of the Louis Buldoc House, one of the preserved houses at the living history center “New France – the Other Colonial America at the Bolduc House Museum” in Ste. Geneviève, Missouri. It was built in 1740 and has been restored to depict the original interior, complete with wooden cradle and highchair.
An American cradle from 1762. Photo by MET CC0
A beautiful vintage cradle from The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis permanent collection. Photo by Dschwen CC BY-SA 3.0
Another American cradle, made sometime between 1815 and 1820. Photo by MET CC0
A photo showing an Armenian woman and a baby laid in the cradle.
A cradle from the Balkans in Svrzo’s House, part of the Museum of Sarajevo. Photo by Matěj Baťha CC BY-SA 2.5
Some of these baby-soothing beds also came with hoods, which helped create a cosy environment for the youngster by keeping out chilly drafts or bright sunlight. They’d keep the babies warm when needed or provide shade for a daytime nap.
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The rocker resembles one of the earliest-known and most frequently used types of cradle. The simplest style of traditional rocker would be made from a half-cut log; the wood was hollowed in the middle to create a safe nest where the newborn could sleep.
A popular cradle design that appeared during the colonial period in North America was the cradle with sloping sides and a hooded end. From Art Nouveau to Gothic, this cradle changed fashions in alignment with the most popular styles of the day.
A cradle of mahogany and gilded brass, from Catalonia, c. 1820. The piece is now at Madrid’s Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas.
Bassinet as cradle, Germany 1957. Bundesarchiv, Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0
Beautifully shaped bentwood cradle made by Gebrüder Thonet, c. 1870. Photo by Sailko CC by 2.5
Ceremonial bercelonnette (cradle) of the imperial prince, 1856. The piece is housed in the Paris-based Musée Carnavalet. Photo by Sailko CC BY 3.0
The bercelonnette was gifted from the City of Paris to Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie of France, for the baptism of the Imperial Prince in 1856. Photo by Sailko CC BY 3.0
A dark-colored British cradle made of oak, dated 1661, Dayton Art Institute. Photo by Wmpearl CC0
The royal cradle of Henry IV of France, here displayed at the Château de Pau. Photo by Thierry de Villepin CC BY-SA 3.0
Another popular option from long ago was the cradle design which was fastened with hooks or a rope, linked to a standing frame.
While more simple designs would have served the lower classes, royals and other people of the high class would normally have more elaborately ornamented cradles with expensive-looking hangings.
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Some cabinet makers of the 18th century are noted for manufacturing designs that were able to go on rocking for over an hour by themselves. Such pieces embodied special mechanisms in their design to have the cradle continually rocking for a significant amount of time.
Probably not the best choice for people suffering to claustrophobia. An enclosed bed from 1650 at the Château de Kerjean with a cradle placed at the bedside. Photo by MOREAU Henri CC BY-SA 4.0
An opulent cradle that was given to the House of Savoy by the City of Naples for the occasion of the birth of their successor to the throne, Vittorio Emanuele. Photo by Ettschioppa CC BY-SA 4.0
One more photograph showing the beautiful cradle that belongs to the Swedish royal family, gifted from Duke Fredrik III of Holstein-Gottorp and Maria Elisabeth of Saxony.
A cradle from Damascus, Syria dated to the 19th century. The piece has been long-term loaned to the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Photo by Haa900 CC0
A crib from the Scottish Highlands dated to the 17th century; it was used by the Farquharson clan chiefs for their children. Photo by Mcmeekinbraemar CC BY-SA 4.0
Cradle of the Imperial Prince in the Carnavalet Museum Paris, France. Photo by bynyalcin CC BY 3.0
Cradle of Philip I of Castile, of the house of Hapsburg, called Philip the Handsome or the Fair. The piece is now part of the Brussel’s Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis. Photo by anonymous CC BY 2.5
Early 19th century cradle made from pine and hickory, on display at the Concord Museum, MA. The quilt and was handmade by Hannah Dawes Newcomb (1769-1851). Photo by Daderot CC0
Cross-swinging cradle designed by Peter Keller in 1922, while studying at the Staatliches Bauhaus arts school. Photo by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0
The cross-swinging cradle is now displayed at Germany’s Bauhaus Museum, Weimar. Photo by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0
Empire room on the first floor of the north wing of Hinterglauchau Castle. The opulent cradle which can be noticed at the back of the room is perfectly coordinated with the rest of the furniture. Photo by Jörg Blobelt CC BY-SA 4.0
An authentic Elizabethan bedroom inside Leicester’s Gatehouse, Kenilworth Castle, England. These chambers were where Queen Elizabeth I was wooed by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in 1575. We’re pretty certain that their short-lived affair did not end up with the need for this elaborate wooden cradle. Photo by Richard Croft CC BY-SA 2.0
The cradle of Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples. Photo by Sailko CC BY 3.0
One more amazing creation from the Neapolitan artisans: the Cradle of Vittorio Emanuele III, Prince of Naples, 1869. Photo by Sailko CC BY 3.0
A cradle made of oak, at château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg. Photo by Philippe sosson CC BY 2.0
Old cradle from the Maihaugen open air ethnographic museum, Lillehammer, Norway. Photo by Øyvind Holmstad CC BY-SA 3.0
Opened in 1904 to display the collection of Anders Sandvig, Maihaugen museum today has more than one hundred buildings depicting historic life and traditional crafts. Photo by Øyvind Holmstad CC BY-SA 3.0
Canopy bed and a cradle housed in a museum in Lund, Sweden. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber CC BY-SA 3.0
Photograph of the cradle of Henry V of England, formerly at Monmouth, then donated in 1912 by King George V to the Museum of London.
Simple but adorable cradle housed in Rømø, Denmark, at the Kommandørgård National Museum. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber CC BY-SA 3.0
Göcsej Village Museum, Zalaegerszeg, Hungary. Reconstruction of a room in an old peasant house, including a cradle.
Vintage black and white photo. The all-wood bedroom looks very homely, with a writing desk for ma or pa to use while baby sleeps.
Walnut cradle from 1779, here displayed at Bregenz, Vorarlberg Museum, Germany.
Across cultures, cradles and how babies were cared for during their sleep time has varied, but there are many similarities with the modern day. The tradition of snugly swaddling babies was employed with the beautiful cradleboards traditionally used among Native Americans.
These baby carriers were perfectly designed to be worn on a mother’s back or pulled by a travois, and provided security in transport.
Read another story from us: Strange but True: Coney Island’s craziest-ever exhibit, incubators containing real premature babies
Today, we are accustomed to newer designs of baby cots and cribs, but we must not forget the cradles that were once cherished in homes around the world.