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    Toilets of rich and poor: extravagance and want

    Gold-plated toilets are items of luxurious art for the rich and famous, but just sanitary ones are unknown for half the world, and were a problem for the tourist minister of Malaysia in1998.
    Three billion people lacked adequate toilets and sewage facilities in 1997, according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF called their facilities “medieval,” a hazard to health and an important factor in low life expectancies in poor countries.

    A later UNICF report noted that “Between 1990 and 2088 the proportion of the world’s population with access to improved drinking water sources increased from 77 to 87 percent.” That still left some 900 million people with risky drinking water, while progress on toilet facilities appeared to lag.

    New York-based Sherle Wanger Inernational, meanwhile, has been selling gold-plated and jewelry-encrusted toilets and bathroom fixtures to such celebrities as Richard Nixon, Joan Rivers, Kirk Douglas and Gloria Vanderbilt for half a century.

    Sherle Wanger (1918-1997) and his wife established the business in 1945. The company’s web site describes Wanger as “first and foremost an artist.” Wanger began by making closet accessories, then bathroom facilities, finally moving “toward completing the ultimate luxury bathrooms.”

    Sherle Wanger fixtures feature semi-precious stones such as malachite, rose quartz and tiger eye; 24-karat gold plated faucets; hand painted wash basins, bidets and toilet bowls, and pedestal lavatories hand-carved from a single block of Italian marble or onyx. A bathroom countertop carved from lapis lazuli and fitted with gold plated basin and faucet sold for about $28,000 in 1997.

    In Malaysia, journalists asked the minister of tourism what the government intended to do to keep public toilets clean during the 1998 Commonwealth Games. “The government cannot do much to stop the problem,” said the tourism minister, “except to ask people to aim carefully.”

    Notes from Toronto Star, July 27, 1997; Biography August, 1997; World Press Review, August, 1997, New York Times, March 22, 1997.

     

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