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History Of Antique Tables

Some of the early seventeenth-century tables found their way to this country, but few of them are in existence now outside of the museums. First there was the solid, heavy oak table, seldom carved, and usually long enough to accommodate a family at dinner. Then came the so-called drawingtable, with leaves at the ends, which drew out and were supported by folding braces. In both these types we find heavy, solid construction, with plain frames, sometimes turned legs, and heavy braces at the bottom. Tables of this type, used chiefly for dining, persisted until 1725, but the later ones have never had any vogue with collectors.Some smaller ones, with drawers, turned legs, and heavy underbraces, were made about 1700, when we occasionally find lighter, turned stretchers.

The oldest tables likely to be found in this country are the joined or wainscot tables, which correspond in style with the wainscot chairs. Far more interesting, however, is the thousand-legged or gateleg table, a type which is still to be found, and the finding of which is always a delight to the collector. This was the fashionable dining-table from about 1650 to 1700, and the style belongs to the Jacobean period. They were usually round or oval in shape, or square with round corners, and had two or four leaves which were supported by gate-like legs that swung out from the main frame.When the leaves were dropped they occupied very little space.They were made of many kinds of wood-walnut, pine, maple, cherry, and occasionally cedar, in this country, but most commonly oak in England. Sometimes they were furnished with a drawer. The legs were turned, often delicately; the stretchers were usually flat.The feet were usually a round or flattened ball. They were made in decreasing numbers as late as 1740

With the reign of William and Mary in England (1689-1702) came the Dutch influence, and the forms of tables were altered, just as the chairs were. The cabriole leg became a feature. Veneering became popular, and various woods were used, such as cherry and maple. Plain card-tables of walnut veneer were introduced, and both small and large tables with round, oblong, square, and scalloped tops. The larger ones were used for dining, as the gate-leg table passed out of fashion. About 1715 the ball-and-claw foot was introduced a Chinese detail modified in Spain and Holland. With the reign of Queen Anne (1720-1714) the cabriole leg was still further developed, as in chairs. From 1720 to 1750 tea-tables and card-tables made in cherry and other woods, with four cabriole legs, became very popular, and the first tea-tables with a central post and short tripod legs were introduced. There were also tripod candle-stands for the bedroom, about four feet high, and with small tops.

Meanwhile, in the first half of the eighteenth century, tables were being made in New England, some of which have survived the ravages of time. These were mostly small tables, usually with tripod legs after the English fashion, with oval, round, square, or octagonal tops. They were made of oak, pine, and maple, and even of chestnut, beech, and ash. Walnut was much used in Virginia and Pennsylvania. The same types, with slight changes, were made here later of mahogany.

About 1750 in England appeared the handsomest of the tripod tables and stands-the pie-crust. Mahogany had now become popular, after japanned furniture had had a brief vogue, and nearly all of the pie-crust tables were of that wood.A very few were of cherry. The tops usually tipped, and were made round, with edges delicately scalloped, and raised in a molding effect. The feet were often of the ball-and-claw type, and the pedestals and knees were sometimes beautifully carved.These pie-crust tables are seized upon with avidity by discriminating collectors and command a good price in the shops. Some of the best of the carved mahogany examples are to be found in Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as in New England and New York.

There were also plain-top tea-tables made both in England and in America from 1750 to 1825, with tripod stands, and with both ball-and-claw and plain feet. The tops tipped usually, and were made square, round, oval, and octagonal. They were of all sizes, and mahogany, cherry, and other woods were used.

About 1750 serving-tables were made with a leaf that pulled out, and dining tables that could be slightly extended. By the latter part of the century dining-tables were made with various methods of extension, though the modern sliding method is a comparatively recent invention. During the eighteenth century some French tables of the periods of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI were brought to this country, and some of them are still in existence, fair examples of the French styles of those periods. But they were not widely used here in Colonial days, and most of those now to be found in the shops have since been brought from Europe. Those that are still in useful condition are too rare to be of great interest to the collectors of Colonial furniture.

We now come to the Chippendale period in England. From 1720 to 1780 tables were made of cherry, walnut, and mahogany, with four cabriole legs, with or without ball-and-claw feet, and with more or less carving. These became more and more like Chippendale's work, until about 1750, when many of them followed his style closely.Tables of this type are therefore often called Chippendale, but it is doubtful if there were ever very many genuine Chippendale tables in this country, and authentic examples of his work are now rare and costly.The tables made by other cabinet-makers in his style, however, are not to be rejected, as many of them are very fine, particularly those of mahogany, with carved legs and ball-and-claw feet. Chippendale's books of design, by the way, do not show a single piece of furniture with ball-and-claw feet, though he may have used that feature in his earlier work.

It may be interesting to know, however, that Chippendale designed and constructed a number of different kinds of tables-tea-stands in Chinese style, lamp-stands, console-tables, dressing-tables, cardtables, etc. As with his other work, he made use of Dutch, French, and Chinese details at different times, and combinations of these, and the best of his work is remarkable for its exquisite carving and boldness of curve. The square-topped silver-tables, with a raised rim or gallery in a Chinese fret pattern, are occasionally to be seen in this country.

By 1780 the style of Chippendale had gone out of fashion. The Classic designs of the Adam brothers paved the way for Heppelwhite's preeminence, and later for Sheraton. The cabriole leg gave place to the straight, slender, tapering leg, square or round, and usually fluted. Mahogany was still much used, but inlay took the place of carving. Many of the card-tables and pier-tables designed by Heppelwhite and Sheraton had beautifully inlaid tops.Often the tops of these card-tables were hinged across the middle, so that when half of it was lifted, and the swinging leg drawn in, it could be placed close against the wall, with half the top resting upright against the wall, or closed over on the other half.A similar type of card-table was made in this country of rosewood, carved, and with a green baize instead of an inlaid top.

Heppelwhite designed a number of types of small tables, many of which were copied by other makers. There was a dressing-table with a shield-shaped mir ror, and a sewing-table, the top of which lifted, closing a cabinet with compartments, or a drawer with a silk or velvet bag. Mahogany work-tables of this general type were also made in America, without inlay, with one or two small drawers, square tops, two drop leaves, and four twisted or fluted legs. These work-tables and the tripod tea-tables are the kinds most likely to reward the search of the countryside collector.

Sheraton's tables were very slender and graceful. He designed drop-leaf tables with reeded legs, and decorated with inlay. He occasionally made use of elaborate marquetry in his dressing-tables, employing veneers and inlays of ebony, tulip-wood, satinwood, and various other tinted woods. Sheraton's best tables are scarcely ever found in this country; hence there is a strong temptation to counterfeit.

About 1800 these delicate lines disappeared and the influence of the French Empire styles began to be felt. Some of these heavy, elaborate French tables and stands found their way to this country, including consoles with marble pillars and much gilding.

Most of our furniture by this time, however, was home-made, and some of it was not without artistic merit. It was largely Empire in type, simpler, and tempered by the Sheraton influence. Fine mahogany was a feature, especially beautifully grained veneer. On this the American cabinet-makers depended for beauty rather than upon carving or inlay. Heavy scroll effects were used, and the tables were often made with a round or octagonal veneered central pillar, or a lyre-shaped pedestal, and four scroll-shaped feet. The veneered dining-tables of this period are still to be found in use in old families, and are well worth preserving as heirlooms.

Then heavy carving became fashionable, and finally, just prior to the black-walnut period and the age of machine-rnade monstrosities, an even heavier center pillar was the vogue, often octagonal or square, with a square base, and ball-shaped feet or a scroll at each corner. Like other old furniture, tables are reproduced and faked not a little. There is an especial demand for old mahogany dining-tables, and this demand the fakers do their best to meet.It is not safe to buy old dining-tables from any but the most reliable dealers. The same is true of Chippendale and Sheraton stands and tea-tables, and the better class of American-made pieces.

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