Tables And Sideboards

( Originally Published 1905 )

AT the first glance it would not seem that there was very close connection between these two objects, but the sideboard is the direct out-growth from the side table. When some enthusiastic furniture collector tells you that he has a sideboard three hundred- years old, do not believe him, for there were no sideboards then, no, nor a hundred and fifty years ago, either. The earliest ones are not more than one hundred and twenty-five to thirty years of age, and such a tiques as these are few and far between. None of m are to be " picked up."

In order to get a clear idea of the matter, I am going to begin as far back as those days which seem so remote to us, before the Mayflower had begun her perilous voyage across the sea.

The very earliest form of table was a board on trestles. This was used for eating from, and since the small number of dishes and trenchers could be placed on it at once, there was no necessity of any side table. Conveniences increased, elegancies crept in, and the time arrived when it was necessary to have an extra table to place the table furniture upon, and on which to display the plate and cups when not in use. The trestle-table, with its bench or form, was early in use in England. It was mentioned in inventories by 1530, and the seats were placed on one side only, the other being unoccupied, so that those at table could be conveniently served.

These trestles and boards are still preserved in some of the old English dwellings, particularly in those which have been held in one family for several centuries. In Berkeley Castle, near the 'Welsh border, are antiquities of all kinds, for the castle has been in the possession of the Berkeley family since about 1260, with the exception of a few years when it was confiscated by the crown. In the vast dining-room, which is really a hall in size and lofty grandeur, the modern dining-table looks lonely enough. But, when the castle was a feudal stronghold, hundreds have no doubt sat down to meals there, and there are standing against the walls boards and trestles which have come down with the castle, and which are black with age. These are used now when a large company banquets there, for the family pride themselves on their adherence to old-time customs.

Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, was born at Norwich, England, in 1504. He was appointed chaplain to Anne Boleyn, that unfortunate wife of Henry VIII, and later held high state at Canterbury, to which bishopric he was appointed in 1559. To give some idea of how these princes of the church lived, I quote the following from " Strype's Life of Parker ":

" In their daily eating this was the custom. The steward, with the servants that were gentlemen of the better rank, sate down at the tables in the hall at the right hand, and the almoner, with the clergy and other servants, sat on the other side. Where there was plenty of all sorts of wholesome food, both for eating and drinking. The daily fragments thereof did suffice to fill the bellies of a great number of poor hungry people, that waited at the gate. And so constant and unfailing was this great supply at my lord's table, that whosoever came in either at dinner or supper, being not above the degree of a knight, might here be entertained worthy of his quality, either at the steward's or at the almoner's table. And more-over it was the Archbishop's command to his servants, that all strangers should be received and treated with all manner of civility and respect, and that their places at the table should be assigned to them according to their dignity and quality, which redounded much to the praise and commendation of the Archbishop. The discourse and conversation at meals was void of all brawling and loud talking; and for the most part consisted in framing men's manners to religion, or in some such honest and seeming subject. There was a monitor of the hall. And if it happened that any spoke too loud, or concerning things less decent, it was presently hushed by one that cried silence."

Holinshed's Chronicles " (about 1570), which are great sources of information about life at that period in England, Scotland, and Ireland, has this about breakfast :

" Heretofore there has been much more time spent in eating and drinking than commonly is in these days ; for whereas of old we had breakfasts in the forenoon, beverages or nuntions after dinner, and thereto rear suppers generally when it was time to go to bed, — now these odd repasts, thanked be God, are very well left, and each one in manner (except here and there some young hungry stomach that cannot fast till dinner time) contenteth himself with dinner and supper only."

There is also an ancient manuscript of the Percy family which relates to the family during the sixteenth century, and which gives in detail the bill of fare of the family, throughout the whole year, and shows what appeared on the table-boards of the nobility at that time.

It gives not only the meals for the Earl and Countess, but for the children of the family as well.

" Breakfast for my Lord and Lady, during Lent.

First, a loaf of bread in trenchers, 2 manchets, a quart of beer, a quart of wine, 2 pieces of salt fish, 6 baconn'd herring, 4 white herring, or a dish of sprats.

Breakfast for my Lord Percy and Master Thomas Percy.

Item, half a loaf of household, bread, a manchet, a bottle of beer, a dish of butter, and a piece of salt fish, a dish of spratts, or three white herring.

Breakfast for the nursery, for my Lady Margaret and Master Ingeram.

Item a manchet, a quart of beer, a dish of butter, a piece of salt fish, a dish of sprats, or three white herring."

And except for the season of Lent and fish-days, the ordinary allowance for the family was as follows:

" Breakfasts of flesh days daily throughout the year. For my Lord and Lady.

First a loaf of breade in trenchers, 2 manchets, a quart of beer, a quart of wine, half a chine of mutton, or else a chine of beef boiled.

Breakfasts for my Lord Percy and Master Thomas Percy.

Item, half a loaf of household bread, a manchet, 1 bottle of beer, a cheeking, or else three mutton bones boiled.

Breakfasts for the nursery.

Item, a manchet, 1 quart of beer, and three mutton bones boiled."

Nothing very dainty, truly, for the nursery or the great hall! A manchet " was a loaf of fine white bread, which seems something choicer than what is denominated " household bread."

There was nothing known at this period but the trestle-board, and few of them are left even in England, while in our own land, where so few things are kept, except in some conservative old families in New England and the South, the trestle-board was chopped up long ago, and I know of but two really old ones which are still preserved, even though they have been banished to the attic.

Robert White, of Essex, England, had a very long inventory attached to his will, which was filed in 1617. He gives to his son, John White, " the ioyned standinge bedstead w'ch is in the parlour, with the feather-bed, flockbed, bolster covering, with other furniture thereunto belonginge. Alsoe the presse cupboard, the cupboard table and my newest chest, all which are in ye parlour, to be delivered him after the death of my said wife Bridgett White, or instead thereof the sum of 20 marks of like lawful moneye."

In a will executed in Devonshire, England, dated July, 1617, is this item : " To my sonne William my tableboard in ye hall. To my daughter Susan my Cribbone in ye hall." I have never yet been able to discover what the latter article was. Among the unexpected kinds of tables which I find inventoried is, " 1 old Billyard table, X3," which Francis Hulin, of New York, bequeaths in 1704, showing that these tables had been in use earlier than this, since he classes his as old.

In Figures 1 and 2 are given the second step in table growth, both of these dating to about 1600, the smaller table being the style which was used in private houses, with the joint stool to sit on. The larger one, generally called a " cavalier " table, was in use at the inns, and one can almost see the cavalier himself coming in and throwing down his feathered hat, and crying, " A cup of wine, landlord," just as they do in the play. It would not seem to offer much inducement to linger long over the meal, for a more uncomfortable object than that stool it would be hard to imagine.

The baluster table in Figure 3 was in use about fifty years later, that is, by 1650, and is, like the two preceding ones, of oak. The legs of all three are turned, and the carved decoration is of the familiar patterns which we have found on chests of the same period. The baluster table is ten feet long, and the ends may be dropped if a shorter table is desired.

This seems to be the first type of distinctively serving-tables, Figure 1, and Figure 2 as well, being properly dining-tables.

The one given in Figure 4 is a very early type, and shows that the idea of having a place in which to keep the table linen and other table furniture was taking hold, and that the familiar chest was no longer all-sufficient. The panelling of the drawers of this table, the bail handles, which were fastened in with twisted wire instead of screws, and the turned legs, — all place it in the last of the seventeenth or early in the eighteenth century. The wood is oak, and there are two panels to each drawer, and three styles of ornament are used in these panels. These drawers were used for plate or linen and, as you see, could be locked. With time and wear the wood has grown very black and almost as solid as iron.

Occasionally in an English inventory prior to 1700 reference is found to a " sideboard table," which was like this, no doubt, and I find them mentioned here as well. In the early days of this country, and in England too, the inn was the most important house in the village, and the innkeepers, many of them, were more than comfortably off, and for the convenience of their patrons had many things not to be found in middle-class homes. Some of the famous old inns, which have been carefully restored, have still enough of their old-time comfort clinging to them to justify this conclusion, and if you should visit, for example, the Wayside Inn at South Sudbury, Massachusetts, or the Red Lion at Stockbridge, in the same State, you would find choice pieces of old furniture in mahogany, and the delightful old china for which so many of us are eagerly striving. But these inns belong to the eighteenth century.

Before me lies the inventory of the estate of William Trask, who kept the famous Black Horse Tavern, in Salem, Massachusetts, and whose will was filed March 28, 1691. The whole estate was valued at X413, — a round sum for those times, and one rather wonders where he stowed away those travellers who wished to remain all night, for there must have been some such, even taking into consideration the poor roads and the dangers of going far from settlements at that time.

There was, besides, one " old feather bed and bed-ding, and this was the entire furnishing. Of course, the chief room in the house was the taproom, and all the furnishings that he had in any great number were bottles; and it is specified with some particularity that they were of glass, for leather bottles were also in use ; and in Heyward's " Philocothonista " I find the following:

" Other bottles we have of leather, but they are most used amongst the shepherds and harvest people of the country. Small jacks we have in many ale-houses of the cities and suburbs, tipt with silver, besides the great black jacks and bombards at the court, which when the Frenchmen first saw they reported, at their return into their countrey, that the Englishmen used to drinke out of their bootes."

Fifty years later saw a great difference in the furnishings which were owned by a successful Boniface. In 1730 Abel Chapin died in the little town of Chico-pee, Massachusetts, and he had grown rich in keeping an inn. The inventory of his estate contains six hundred items, among them being thirty-six linen sheets and six tablecloths.

In the private home it was long before the separate room was used for dining. If the warm and comfortable kitchen was not used, meals were served in the

great room," or the hall, which was a much more important part of the house than we make it. At first, even in manor or castle, there was but a screen put up to furnish privacy for the family, since the retainers and men-at-arms all ate in the same room and at the same time as the family. Little by little the dining-room gained favour, and even then held a bed, along with the Flanders' chests, forms and joint stools, and the long table-board.

The dining-table, which was in use at this time — that is, about 1650 — and for the next fifty years, is shown in the next figure, No. 5. It is variously known as the " gate-legged " or the " hundred legged " table, and it was one like this, made of oak, which had a place in the dining-room of William Penn, though his had fewer legs.

About the middle of the eighteenth century there were improvements in the serving-tables, as can be seen in Figure 6; for this has two leaves, which can be pulled out, so that its capacity can be increased. The example shown is a very handsome one, with a carved frieze rail, and two carved rosettes at the top of each leg. The wood is mahogany.

The dining-tables kept pace with the serving ones, and Figure 7 shows one of the same period as Figure 6 and which was called an " extending-table," though what we call an extension-table was not made till about 1800.

Chippendale made some very elegant tables, for side or serving-tables, with marble tops or those of solid mahogany, and with richly carved frames, very few of which found their way over here. What there were seem to have been gradually absorbed by museums, and there is one at Memorial Hall, Philadelphia, which I have shown elsewhere, and once in a while you will find one belonging to some rich collector.

In Figure 8 is shown such a sideboard table, one of a pair, twelve feet long, of richly carved mahogany. They came from the fine old English house, Luton Hoo, in Bedfordshire.

The first man to make what we know as sideboards was a cabinet-maker named Thomas Shearer, of London, England, who issued a book of designs in the year 1788. That they were immediately popular is shown by the fact that all the other cabinet-makers took to making them too, and in 1789 Hepplewhite published a book with his designs, and two years later came Sheraton with his.

Figure 9 shows a Hepplewhite sideboard, with the " spade foot " which was so characteristic of this maker. This board is solid mahogany, with a curved top, and though in England they commonly veneered them on oak, those made in this country, and there are many of them, are veneered on pine, as we did not use so costly a wood as oak for that purpose. The curve under the drawers was to accommodate the wine-cooler, and the usual ornament for the top of the sideboard was not a pair of candelabra, but a pair of knife-boxes, made of the same wood as the sideboard itself, and left open to display the wealth of knives inside, particularly if they had the fashionable handles of green ivory or silver. These knife-boxes, like the sideboards, were always costly and elegant objects. Those of an urn shape were difficult to make and they were often in-laid, which added to the cost. Inside was a frame filled with holes, which held the knives, and there were also in some of them places for spoons, which were put in with the bowls up. A pair belonging to General Washington are shown in Figure 10. And a set of knives and forks in Figure 11.

An example of a wine-cooler and also a pair of knife-boxes is given in Figure 12. Indeed, in convivial days, these wine-coolers were very important parts of dining-room furniture, and were arranged to hold six, eight, or twelve bottles ; and one holding eighteen bottles belonged to General George Washington himself, and is now in the possession of some of his descendants, with a large number of the bottles which stood in little compartments, intact, and each capable of holding a gallon.

Major Church, of Rochester, New York, has an autograph letter from General Washington, addressed to Colonel Hamilton, in which he says that he is sending him a wine-cooler capable of " holding six bottles, one of four which I imported during my term of governmental administration." There were elegancies of many kinds at Mount Vernon, and the General himself looked after the furnishings of the house, as well as after the purchasing of his own, Madam Washington's, and Miss Custis' clothes. These were imported from England, and were bought by his factors in London in pursuance of minute directions given in the voluminous letters which the General wrote with his own hand and despatched by every ship. The very " minikin pins with which the clothes of Nelly Custis were to be fastened were not too small items for his attention, and he gave special orders for her doll to be dressed in the " newest fashion."

He took advantage of every opportunity to better and increase the household articles at Mount Vernon, and it is strange to think of this truly great man bidding at auction for pickle-pots, bolsters, pillows, and bottles, as he did when the contents of the splendid mansion of the Fairfax's, " Belvoir," on the Potomac, was sold at auction. Among the expensive pieces of furniture, nearly all of them mahogany, which he bought on this occasion, was " 1 mahogany sideboard, X12 05 00," showing that fine pieces of furniture brought good prices even then. He bought side tables as well, and his dining-room must have been a dignified and elegant apartment, even if the meals were a trifle solemn.

Hepplewhite also excelled in a style of work which was called " tambour," which consisted of small strips of wood pasted on heavy cloth. This rolled up in a hollow space, and he used it on desks, work-tables, and sideboards. See Figure 13.

Figure 14 shows a style that is not unusual, and is known as Sheraton, whether made in England or here. It comes in both solid and veneered mahogany, and with inlay or without. This example has some very pretty inlay of whitewood which spreads out into fans on the cupboard doors. In the two lower drawers are spaces for the wine bottles, and I have seen some examples like this which had the drawers lined with zinc, making them air-tight. Some of the early sideboards by Shearer and Sheraton have brass rails at the back and sides. They are very pretty, but by no means common. You will find many patterns for such in their books of designs.

In Figure 15 a piece is shown in Sheraton style, and this board is interesting in all its' details, besides being one of those treasures which fell into the hands of its owner at a cost so delightfully small that it seems well-nigh incredible. This picture was sent me by a col-lector who has had remarkable success in filling her whole house with equally choice pieces of old furniture, and while the description of this piece is carefully written on the back of the photograph, the owner has neglected to add her name, and I have lost the accompanying letter. I should place the date of this piece at about 1800, as the handles are rosettes and the feet are of the pattern popular at that time. This side-board, besides having solid doors, which even in the photograph show their beautiful graining, has a strip of satinwood which extends the whole length of the board above the drawers. There was also a place for the wine-cooler, and the bottle drawers are air-tight.

In addition to the straight sideboard which stood against the wall there were those which were made to stand in corners, and thus take up less room. In fact the first sideboards made by Shearer had their tops the shape of a half circle, and the flat side stood against the wall. These were almost without exception veneered and inlaid, and some of the most costly and choice were beautifully painted with figures and scenes on the top, but I have never seen one like this in this country, at least one of the veritable old ones. The simple corner ones, however, are to be found here, of excellent workmanship and of fine wood. One is shown in Figure 16. This choice piece, of mahogany inlaid, has the escutcheons of ivory, which always gave a look of elegance to the furniture to which they were applied. The date of this piece is about 1770, or in that neighborhood, and it is owned in Vermont, where some years ago there was much fine furniture to be had. Even in remote parts of the State now, patriotic and historical societies have been organized, and these are gathering the antiques and preserving them, so that the individual collector has a smaller chance to secure the objects for which he pines. The sideboard in Figure 16 is a typical piece of this style, but in Figure 17 is given one in which the individual maker has given expression to his own ideas. This, too, is of mahogany, with a slightly curved front and flat sides, and with a modified form of French foot. The age of the piece is not to be judged by the handles, which have been recently put on and are modern. It is a pity that better ones were not secured, since the piece is otherwise in excellent condition. I saw one of these sideboards the other day, which had been " cleared out " by a woman who was moving and who sold it for two dollars. There is more of the story, however, for it cost the purchaser fifty dollars to get it restored. The sideboard in Figure 17 has a prettily curved front, almost serpentine, different from the half circle which these boards usually have. It has the board at the bottom, which was so much used at the end of the eighteenth century, but I think the shelves were a later addition. Even so, it is an agreeable piece of furniture and an ornament to any room.

There has been a great exhibition of old furniture at the South Kensington Museum, London. There was much shown which had a deal of history connected with it. Who could help " thrilling " when he saw a chair which some monarch or great person had used familiarly, and upon which he could gaze his fill? Many of the objects were undoubtedly some of the choicest relics in England, and worthy of the highest respect, but there were others that caused you to smile, even if you did come from the home of the youngest nation, where anything is antique that survives our chop and change for fifty years. Every object had attached to it the label made out by the owner, and we are not the only ones who add years and years of age to our possessions. There were pieces of furniture marked with the name of Chippendale, and their date set down as 1720, when the great maker was but a lad at his mother's knee. You cannot always trust a collector's estimate of his own possessions, and the only safe way is to study them yourself, and then draw your own conclusions, always taking care to keep them to your-self if they do not agree with the statements of the owner. If you attempt to set him or her right you will only get yourself disliked.

With the French Revolution styles in furniture altered very much. When Napoleon came on the scene they altered still more, particularly after his victories in Egypt had called his attention to Egyptian ornament. About 1800 a style was evolved called " Empire," which was- heavy and ornate, with none of the graceful lines and delicate ornament of the previous, century to recommend it. This style was freely copied by both the English and the Dutch, the latter adapting it to their excellent standards and turning out much handsome furniture. The English, on the other hand, made their Empire furniture very heavy and added much brass, both cast and wrought, in which was seen the influence of that style of decoration which had been so popular during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI.

In Figure 18 is given an English rendering of the Empire style, and shows a very plain and solid side-board, with a sparing use of gilt at the tops and bases of the pillars. It has leaves which will draw out on the sides, for the use of the carver, and a rising back. It is made of mahogany and is not veneered. It is a good, plain piece of furniture, but is distinctly inferior, from an ornamental point of view, to those pieces which have preceded it.

In Figure 19 is given a much more ornamental piece, with richly carved legs and pillars and handsome panelled doors. This style, which is on the Empire order, is sometimes called " Colonial," which is manifestly wrong, since that term rightly belongs only to furniture made before 1776, and this was not invented till about 1800, long after our Revolution.

A pattern of sideboard which was popular about 1810 is also given, the glass knobs being thought quite " the thing " by the housekeepers of those days. A fine dining-table with heavy carved feet went with such a sideboard, and was often of mahogany.

In addition to these tables, which were distinctly for dining-room service, there were others, which could be found in different parts of the house, and were used for various purposes. I have no doubt that those most in use were the numberless little work-tables (see Figures 23, 25, 26) at which our grandmothers sat, laboring often far into the night to complete the many garments which had to pass through their hands, when neither sewing-machines nor " ready-to-wear " clothes were to be obtained. I have heard an old lady who had a family of ten children, seven of them girls, say that she made thousands of buttonholes every year, until each girl grew big enough to be taught to make her own. But if they used the work-tables pretty steadily during the day, some evenings in the week were de-voted to a game of cards, and many handsome tables were sent here from England, like those in Figure 22. Hepplewhite and Sheraton made delicate and elegant ones, still to be found in many homes. Most of these tables are ornamented with inlay, the familiar " husk pattern " running down the legs, which so often tapered to a spade-foot, or had a piece of whitewood let in a few inches from the floor. These tables generally closed over on the top, so that they could be set against the wall when not in use. Rosewood card-tables were made in this country, elegantly carved and covered with baize on the top, but the Hepplewhite and Sheraton tables have usually plain wood tops.

The little work-table shown in Figure 23 is interesting because there is one exactly like it at Mount Vernon, standing in the room in which General Washington died. The " Dutch foot," a name which is given to this style of turned-out foot, is by no means common on tables, though it was often to be found on chairs. This table, like the one at Mount Vernon, is of mahogany, like the so-called " pie-crust " table also given in Figure 24. The old pie-crust tables always show the marks of the carving tool along the edges of the crust, while the modern ones, and there are many of these latter, are sandpapered down so as to be perfectly smooth.

The most modern of all these tables are to be seen in the last three illustrations. The one with the wooden bag (Figure 25) is not at all pretty, but it is quaint, and I know of only two or three such. This is made on what would be called Sheraton style, and from a fine piece of mahogany.

The Empire table with brass-tipped feet (Figure 26) is a choice specimen of its type, and in fine condition, while the papier-mâché table (Figure 27) , in addition to the painting in the centre, has a border of inlay, chiefly of mother-of-pearl.

Home | More Articles | Email: