What is this tile?
July 1, 2021 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What is this tile for? Found in a bathroom in an old hospital building.
posted by ocherdraco to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am going to guess that it is for paper towels or some other paper products because it has the classic shape that Kleenex boxes and similar dispensers have. Cool question, thank you!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:16 AM on July 1, 2021 [7 favorites]

It's shaped like you'd pull paper towels or tissues or wipes from it
posted by sleeping bear at 11:17 AM on July 1, 2021

I have one in my apartment from around 1930. I assume it’s a toilet paper dispenser, but I’ve never found proof.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:30 AM on July 1, 2021

Similar question here. One answer was "Yes, the wall slot was meant to hold “interfolded” toilet tissue-for dispensing one tissue at a time..."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:11 PM on July 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

I was looking for a similar image because that was my instinct as well - for the terrible one-sheet toilet tissue that you sometimes see in boxes like these
posted by Mchelly at 12:13 PM on July 1, 2021

Assuming it's a tissue dispenser of some kind, the question becomes, how do you load a fresh supply, short of just stuffing them in the there. I once saw a version of this in the guestroom of a stately home built in the 1930s, where rather than having a roll of toilet paper mounted in the room, it was mounted in an adjacent closet and fed through a tile with a horizontal slot into the bathroom. The maid changed the roll in the closet. Woe to the guest who tore off some tissue and lost the feed... Perhaps this thing had a similar access in an adjacent room to replenish the tissue supply.
posted by beagle at 12:28 PM on July 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

My great aunt had one of these in her big old Victorian house. Yes it was for single sheet toilet paper and she somehow had a supplier for extremely old school paper of that sort that fit in there and was almost like wax paper in my memory (from the 80s when she was over 100).
posted by rustcellar at 12:38 PM on July 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

Here's one for sale
posted by pinochiette at 1:00 PM on July 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Fascinating! Thanks everyone
posted by ocherdraco at 2:05 PM on July 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ah, the joys of Izal “hard” medicated paper … there weren't any. Both sets of my grandparents used to use this stuff. My arse still fears it 40 years later. We used to nick it at school for tracing paper.

More from the Wellcome Collection: How Brits went soft on toilet paper.
posted by scruss at 4:54 PM on July 1, 2021 [7 favorites]

Aw, that second link! In 1970:
Wilson’s report to Thomson explained that with soft paper, people’s “fingers would be virtually in contact with the faecal material” and so “until the routine washing of hands after defecation becomes a universal practice”, soft toilet tissue simply posed too great a risk to health.
Yes, until then.
posted by clew at 6:20 PM on July 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Back in my day the toilet paper crackled when you crumpled it and gave you paper cuts when you didn't, and that's how we liked it.

Actually that last part is a lie. I did occasionally have to use toilet paper that awful, but only at really terrible public toilets. The make is seared into my brain: Gibson Nu-Leaf. Shudder.

Not at all surprising to find dispensers for the stuff literally built into a hospital wall. Old hospitals are often quite austere places.

how do you load a fresh supply, short of just stuffing them in the there

With the tile dispenser, I don't think you'd have any option but to remove the stack of interfolded paper from of the box it came in and just stuff it into the slot.

The public toilets where I encountered this stuff had tall, shallow sheet steel dispenser boxes that held two cardboard boxes of it. The front face had a wide horizontal slot about a quarter of the way up and a narrow vertical viewing slit in the top half so that staff could see at a glance whether the dispenser needed re-loading.

There was a vertical carton-loading slot in the top half of the side wall, and another horizontal slot in the underside of the dipenser. Stamped into the face near the main slot were the instructions: "Crush empty carton to remove" or something very like that. The underside slot was narrow enough that the only way to get an empty box out was to stick your fingers through the front slot and shove them through the bottom, dragging the crushed carton with them.

The loading slot had shallow angled fins projecting inward lobster-pot style, so you could stuff a fresh box of toilet paper in there but couldn't easily get it out. Having followed the instructions, the fresh carton would drop into the bottom half, at which point you could tear away the perforated cover through the front slot to get access to the interfolded papers behind it.
posted by flabdablet at 2:40 AM on July 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

she somehow had a supplier for extremely old school paper of that sort that fit in there and was almost like wax paper in my memory (from the 80s when she was over 100.

Lolling at this from evidently prehistoric Britain where such things were very commonplace and familiar to all ages in schools and public toilets well into the 80s at least, not considered historic artefacts. Ah, Izal, known to generations of British school kids as "that bloody tracing paper". I'm unsurprised from scruss's second link, to learn that it took two hours to absorb a drop of water. I'm pretty sure the added attraction for the institutions that bought it (aside from its cheapness), was that it came out one tiny sheet at a time, so you'd die of frustration before you managed to get a big enough wad of it in your hand to be wasteful.
posted by penguin pie at 12:36 PM on July 2, 2021

a big enough wad of it

This is getting wildly off-topic, but Izal couldn't ever be wadded. It was thin manila, completely waterproof, supercalendered on one side. One sheet was all you could use. It required more of a kind of trowelling action, but that's rather more detail than anyone might want to receive. If you thought moist wipes could block your cludgie, imagine what a bolus of hard TP could do. Hard paper decried the possibility of "poke through" (a technical TP term, I'm told) and other insanitary problems. Izal paper stank of cresol; yes, wiping your bum with phenols was a great idea.

Far more details and anecdata: ‘My childhood was quite showbiz’: my advert for Bronco toilet paper · Toilet Roll In London: A Feculent History · The Ephemera Society - The discipline of cloacopapyrology!
posted by scruss at 10:06 AM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Perhaps this thing had a similar access in an adjacent room to replenish the tissue supply.

In the case of my apartment, that would lead to a rather inconvenient fall of several stories….
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:58 PM on July 3, 2021

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