Murphy beds have been in existence since about 1900, when William L. Murphy invented the patented mechanism to hide his bed away in the closet of his one room apartment while he entertained. The beds have been in use ever since, always appreciated by city apartment dwellers and homeowners who needed an extra bed in a multipurpose room.
During World War II and directly afterwards, the beds dropped in popularity, first because of the scarcity of steel, and then because people were moving out of the city to larger, suburban homes, and space was not at such a premium. In the decades of the fifties and sixties, the beds were mainly remembered as props in slap-stick comedy, or the place to hide the body in a mystery story.
Now, Murphy beds are experiencing resurgence, as professional people move back into the cities and make their smaller living spaces more functional. Many apartment dwellers are finding these beds already existing in older buildings, especially in places like San Francisco, where the Murphy bed was invented, and where many Murphy beds were sold for the apartments built between the 1906 earthquake and World War II. Antique Murphy beds are now much sought after conversation pieces and design focal points, as well as practical, still-functioning pieces of furniture.
Antique Murphy beds are also being sold in fine antique stores all over the country. Many of the original mechanisms still function and the cabinetry used to create the units can be quite beautiful. Buyers should remember, however, that a true Murphy bed is not going to be older than the invention, patented in 1900. The piece may be housed in a cabinet that is older than the patent, but the mechanism cannot be older than that. The buyer should be knowledgeable about the furniture of the period as a whole, and about the mechanism itself. Intelligently purchased, these beds can be an investment and a functioning piece of furniture.