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The Pembroke Table, American Version

In the early 1750's Thomas Chippendale of London, England, designed a table with broad bed and shallow leaves. Its four straight legs were connected by an X-shaped stretcher. Intended as a tea table, he gave it the name "Pembroke" in honor of the client for whom he designed it.

It appeared in his book, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director, and very soon American cabinetmakers had taken this highly stylized design, given it their usual editing and produced a version that remained in favor with their public for a full seventy years. Cabinetmakers in the urban centers made very handsome ones with leaves either plain or serpentine in outline. Square chamfered legs were braced by either flat or arched X-stretchers that sometimes were delicately carved in Chinese fretwork patterns . Fretwork brackets often decorated the joining of legs 'and skirt. There was also a wide shallow drawer framed with narrow cockle-bead molding at one end of the table bed. Mahogany was of course the favored wood, though some tables, especially the early ones, were walnut.

Country-made Pembrokes followed the same general lines of construction but left off such furbelows as fretwork carving of stretchers or openwork brackets. It was made in Maine about 1790 or some years after this ornate style passed out of favor in such centers as Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. In rural areas where the older style still lingered, enough of the new had pentrated for cabinetmakers to add a few transitional touches, such as a slight taper to the hitherto square leg of Chippendale or a brass rosette drawer-pull instead of the earlier bail handle.

In a very few years the Hepplewhite version of this table appeared with characteristic tapered leg and sometimes without the diagonal stretchers of the Chippendale years. Mahogany was still the favored wood and city-made pieces were decorated with satinwood inlay. Country Pembrokes were plainer, sometimes of cherry or other hard woods. About the turn of the century came the Sheraton style with its slender turned and reeded legs ending in brass castered feet.

This deservedly popular table went out of style about 1815 when the American Empire fashion took over, but again country craftsmen did not relinquish it so readily. For a good fifteen years longer they made a fair number of very simple Pembrokes of such native hard woods as cherry, plain or fancy grained maple, walnut, or yellow birch. This survival type had the broad bed and narrow leaves of the table designed by Chippendale sixty or seventy years before. But the leaves were straight with square or rounded corners and there was usually no drawer in the table bed. Legs were either the slender tapering ones of the Hepplewhite influence or the turned but unreeded legs of the Sheraton style. It was severely plain but still a Pembroke. Today this very quality, added to general usefulness, make it a welcome addition to the modern home.

Although Chippendale's book of furniture designs was owned and used by many of the leading American cabinetmakers, few of them did much with those in the Chinese manner. The characteristic fretwork, an interlaced pattern done either in pierced silhouette or carved in low relief, was an intricate detail to be attempted only by an experienced and able craftsman. It was expensive and, moreover, a slavish copy of Chinese Chippendale designs would have been too ornate for American tastes.

One of the few who adapted this detail in a manner palatable to American taste was John Townsend of Newport, Rhode Island. He took Chippendale's Pembroke design with its wide bed and shallow leaves, gave it a plain rectangular outline, set it on square legs ornamented with fluting and connected them with a saltire stretcher ornamented in a simple geometric fretwork pattern. He also added fretwork brackets at the joinings of legs and bed. Every detail, intricate or plain, reflected the original Chippendale design with an American accent.He made this table between 1760 and 1770. Born in 1732, he saw the end of the Chippendale era but was still young enough to adjust to the new styles of Hepplewhite and Sheraton and his skill and artistic ability produced furniture as light and delicate as the earlier style was sturdy and alaborate.

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