High-tank toilets are a classic vintage style that conjure images of old-fashioned bathrooms. With their elevated water tanks and pull chains, these quaint toilets have a nostalgic charm. Here’s an in-depth look at the history and features of high-tank toilets.

What Are High-Tank Toilets?

High-tank toilets, also known as tank toilets or high-level cisterns, have a water tank mounted high up on the wall behind the toilet bowl. This exposed tank is connected to the toilet bowl below by a long pipe. The tank is filled with water and fluxes to flush the toilet when the pull chain is engaged.

The signature look of a high-tank toilet is the elevated cistern placed high on the wall, above and behind the toilet bowl. The porcelain tank has embellished edges and detailing, adding to the vintage aesthetic. Under the tank is a porcelain toilet bowl, often with ornate floral detailing or a glossy finish. A long pipe connects the tank to the bowl, and a pull chain dangles down.

History of High-Tank Toilets

High-tank toilets first emerged in the late 19th century as indoor plumbing became more common in homes. The early water closet toilets often had high mounted cisterns to utilize gravity for flushing. These vintage toilets were made of materials like wood, ceramics, and lined metal.

By the early 1900s, high-tank toilets were popularized due to their efficiency and simplified installation. Placing the tank high up on the wall required less space and piping. The vintage style also lent an elegant, refined look to early 20th century bathrooms.

Manufacturers like Crane, Kohler and American Standard produced ornate, decorative high-tank models. After WWII, high-tank toilets were replaced by more compact modern toilets but remained staples in some buildings.

Key Features of High-Tank Toilets

Exposed Tank: The signature exposed tank mounted high on the wall is the most identifiable feature of a high-tank toilet. Tanks were often embellished with decorative detailing.

Pull Chain: A brass pull chain dangles down from the tank, allowing the user to manually trip the flushing mechanism. Pulling the chain lifts the flush valve in the tank.

Flushing Mechanism: Early models used a simplistic tank & siphon design that relied on gravity. Later versions had more advanced flushing mechanisms within the tank.

Two-Piece Design: High-tank toilets consist of two separate porcelain pieces – the elegant tank and the toilet bowl. This allows for easier installation.

Ornate Aesthetics: Vintage high-tank toilets often had decorative, embellished toilet bowls with glossy finishes, colorful floral patterns and gold accents.

Benefits of High-Tank Toilets

Vintage Appeal: High-tank toilets are icons of vintage bathroom decor. Their nostalgic charm and ornate beauty lend antique flair.

Conversation Piece: The exposed tank and pull-chain become a prominent focal point and conversation starter in bathrooms.

Water Efficiency: Early tank models used 3-5 gallons per flush, on par with modern low-flow toilets. Newer retrofits only use 1.6 gpf.

Durability: Vintage high-tank toilets made of solid porcelain materials were built to last for decades. Their longevity is a testament to quality craftsmanship.

Easier Installation: High-tank models require less piping and take up less floor space. Gravity allows more flexible placement.

Decorating With High-Tank Toilets

High-tank toilets can be incorporated into a variety of bathroom interior design styles:

Vintage: Lean into the old-fashioned charm with Victorian or Art Deco details like patterned tiles, clawfoot tubs and ornate furniture.

Classic: Create a timeless look by pairing with marble counters, beadboard wainscoting and white subway tiles for a clean, elegant feel.

Modern: Use a high-tank toilet as a statement juxtaposed with sleek, contemporary elements like floating vanities and matte black hardware.

Eclectic: Incorporate a high-tank toilet into eclectic spaces with a mix of mismatched antique and modern furnishings and quirky accents.

Cottage: For a cozy cottage or farmhouse motif, adorn with wood furnishings, floral fabrics, painted cabinets and pastel color palettes.

Maintaining High-Tank Toilets

High-tank toilets may need some periodic maintenance to keep the vintage charm alive:

  • Regularly clean the porcelain tank and bowl surfaces.
  • Use a non-abrasive cleaner like soap and water to avoid damaging the finish.
  • Check fittings for leakage and have any drips repaired.
  • Ensure the pull chain and flushing mechanism work smoothly.
  • Replace any worn or damaged parts like gaskets or the flush handle.
  • Add tank tablets to prevent algae and bacteria growth in the stored water.
  • Have a plumber inspect for cracks, leaks or tank corrosion issues.

High-Tank Toilet FAQs

Are high-tank toilets still made today?

Yes, high-tank toilets are still manufactured today, though they are far less common. Various companies make modern high-tank toilets that combine vintage style with contemporary technology for improved performance.

Do high-tank toilets clog easily?

High-tank toilets generally do not clog easily. Their simple gravity-based siphon flushing mechanism and elongated bowl shape help prevent clogs. Proper maintenance also reduces clogging risk.

Why were high-tank toilets so popular historically?

The exposed high-mounted water tank made installation easier before modern plumbing techniques existed. The gravity flush system was also more effective at clearing waste. Their ornate style was very on-trend during the Victorian era.

How much water do high-tank toilets use?

Original models used 3-5 gallons per flush (gpf). By the 1980s, the average was 3.5 gpf. Today’s retrofitted high-tank toilets use just 1.6 gpf, comparable to low-flow modern toilets.

Can you replace a high-tank toilet bowl?

Yes, the bowl and tank are separate pieces so the bowl can be replaced while keeping the vintage tank intact. Some companies sell replacement bowls designed for high-tank toilets.

Are high-tank toilets OK for everyday use?

Yes, high-tank toilets can absolutely still serve as everyday-use toilets, especially newer models. Their vintage style doesn’t inhibit modern functionality. Proper maintenance keeps them running smoothly.

The Comeback of Vintage Style

High-tank toilets hearken back to an era of intricate craftsmanship and ornate decoration. Their striking, nostalgic style stands out as a statement piece. While high-tank toilets faded as modern bathroom trends shifted towards minimalism, they are seeing a resurgence among vintage enthusiasts, designers and remodelers looking to add character. With advances in technology, these iconic toilets can be retrofitted with modern innovations for optimal performance. For those seeking to add a glamorous, sophisticated twist of yesteryear elegance to their bathrooms, high-tank toilets provide the perfect decorative and functional fixture.