Regarding the $35,000 “commode on legs” ex-Merrill-Lynch CEO John Thain bought for his office, commenter VikramJaffe informs me that it is not as I theorized, a claw-footed toilet, but rather a chest of drawers on legs introduced by the French in the early 18th century. Too bad no one informed me of the distinction before I took a crap in it.
In all seriousness, originally they were used to store chamberpot in the drawers underneath. Then when they developed enclosed rooms to do your business, though there was no indoor plumbing so you were basically sitting on a giant removable chamber pot, these were also called commodes. Add pipes and flushing water, and why mess with a good thing you got going on let’s still keep calling it a commode.
So what was this device doing in John Thain’s office? Presumably, it’s where he stored Merrill’s mortgage-backed securities, or “night soil.”