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A Fine American Classical Mahogany Games Table

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Directory: Antiques: Furnishings: Furniture: American: Pre 1837 VR: item # 1083303

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Chicora Antiques, Inc.
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Columbia, South Carolina
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A Fine American Classical Mahogany Games Table
A Fine American Classical Mahogany Games Table, circa 1825-1835 Attributed to Baltimore, Maryland or Eastern, Virginia INTRODUCTION: A highly ambitious and robustly carved American Mahogany Classical Card or Games “Pillar and Claw” Table, attributed to the City of Baltimore, Maryland, or possibly Eastern Virginia, circa 1825-1835, with exceptional carved details in a captivating state of original preservation. The present card table comes directly from an estate in St. Joseph, Missouri, and has not been made for sale publicly for approximately four decades. Stylistically, this table falls into a grouping of “foliate” and inverted acanthus carved pedestal tables that were made primarily in both Philadelphia and Baltimore during the years 1815-1835, all of which seem to have derived from plate 69 of the English designer George Smith’s “Collection of Designs for Household Furniture” published in 1808 with the earliest documented example being a mahogany “Work Table”, made in Philadelphia around 1815 by an unknown cabinetmaker currently in “The Biggs Museum of American Art”, Dover, Delaware. OBJECT DESCRIPTION: This card table is made of very dense and luscious tropical mahogany, which was necessary for the highly refined carvings found throughout its’ base decorations. The top features two leaves of solid mahogany which are joined together with a very unusual brass hinge that appears in the rear of the leaves, rather than at the sides, as is normally encountered. This abnormal and idiosyncratic detail in the tables’ construction may suggest authorship to a specific workshop. The tables’ top features “canted” corners and a veneered mahogany skirt that is inwardly coved in a manner typical of Philadelphia and Baltimore practices of the Classical era. The top rotates and pivots to reveal a solid “playing” surface and contains a pocket drawer which was meant to conceal playing cards and other accoutrements when not in use. ATTRIBUTION: An impromptu glance at the table from the casual collector would suggest Philadelphia as the most likely place of manufacture, however, this card table has several merits that virtually eliminate that city as a suspect. The three fundamental elements that prevent a Philadelphia attribution are the circular platform base, the pronounced high knees accented the legs and the attenuated “lions paw” foot. Philadelphia forms were undoubtedly the inspiration for the table’s pedestal, but New York City work certainly influenced the feet, which are far less closely related to Philadelphia examples from documented forms from cabinetmakers there, such as Anthony Quervelle, Charles and John White, and Michael Bovier and much more aligned with feet found on furniture, particularly card tables, from New York’s best cabinetshops, most notably, Charles H. Lannuier and Duncan Phyfe. This fact is not at all disconcerting, as much of the furniture made in Maryland and Eastern Virginia looked to forms made in New York during the early and late Classical era for its design direction. In fact, on June 28th, 1817, John Howe’s “Baltimore Carpet, Furniture, and Looking Glass Warehouse” advertised “sideboards of Boston, New York, and Baltimore styles” for sale which helps demonstrate Baltimore’s inhabitants consciousness and acknowledgement of the most fashionable designs permeating the thriving city’s populous. In 1793 New York lawyer, James Kent had noted that Baltimore had experienced “the most rapid growth of any town” in the United States. EVALUATION: In examination and evaluation of furniture and decorative arts, pieces must first be judged primarily on their aesthetic merits. Great forms exist in abundance without authorship. Likewise, poor substitutes also appear with the presence of definitive genesis. As elusive as he was, whomever authored this card table was a virtuoso and master carver with a broad knowledge of the best neo-classical vocabulary from the Baltimore and Philadelphia school of cabinetmakers. Most furniture attributions are based widely on structural and stylistic details, a methodology which can produce convincing results, but should be admonished when assessing furniture from broad urban areas as is the case here. In larger cities, it was a common practice for artisans to move, with routine, from workshop to workshop, taking with them their own idiosyncratic style. Subsequently, styles migrated quickly from city to city, making such attributions problematic. CONDITION: Exceptional. The finish was tested and found to be original, cleaned to remove all the accumulated impurities with non-invasive solvents, and then polished to reveal its original splendor and radiant mahogany, just as the maker intended.


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