TABLES (SPECIALIZED) - Like Tea, Coffee and Card Tables
As the colonists became settled and prosperous, their houses gradually grew in size and their furnishings increased in number. The practice of carrying small tables from one room to another came to an end as people began to use rooms and furniture for specific purposes. Stylish little tables designed for both work and leisure activities were not necessities; consequently, owning one reflected a homeowner's ability to afford the latest antique designs.
During the 1700s, one of the most fashionable of such tables was the tea table. Early in the century, imported Chinese tea was a rare and expensive luxury, but by the 1740s its price had dropped, and tea drinking - considered highly exotic - had become quite popular. The Queen Anne tea table - many times a painted table inspired by Chinese tables with cabriole legs - quickly became the preferred piece oj furniture for setting out a tea service.
Specialized antique tables were also designed expressly for card playing and other games. While Such tables were produced as early as 1720 in the colonies, they did not become common parlor furnishings until the Federal period. Either square or circular, card tables typically had a folding top, hinged at the back, and a rear leg that could swing out to support the top when it was open.
Country card tables were often quite fashionable: carved mahogany was a favorite material in the 18th century, and delicate inlays were a popular decoration in the 1800s. Many card tables made of cherry were originally stained a darker color to resemble the more expensive, more desirable mahogany.
JUST A BIT OF HISTORY
Center tables provide evidence of the shift from function to decoration that occurred during the last century. During the 17th and 18th centuries, even the best of American tables were conceived with function as the main consideration. Center tables were generally part of partner sets. They serve double duty, also serving as sofa tables and were introduced in the first half of the 19th century when many homes did not have separate dining rooms. And, although you may not think of wicker furniture is being antique, it was used for all-purpose tables as early as the 1840s.
Coffee and Other Related Antique Tables
In the 18th and for most of the 19th century, round or oval tables used in front of sofas were made full height. Towards the end of the last century, many interiors often had low trays or strands in the Chinese style placed in front of sofas or near chairs. After around 1915, these were replaced by low coffee tables in the prevailing revival styles. End tables for sofa ends and holding lamps are another relatively recent invention, primarily part of 20th century parlor sets.
HINTS & TIPS ON COLLECTING THESE ANTIQUE TABLES
Center, coffee, and related tables from the 19th and 20th centuries are available in varied styles and levels of elegance. Most turn-of-the-century tables are oak, Art Deco types and more modern forms are readily found. Long neglected early and mid-19th-century designs, particularly pieces attributed to important makers working in the Empire and Revival styles, have been attracting more and more collectors in recent years.
Many turn-of-the-century tables appear to be made of oak and it was a common practice to do so; however avoid examples which are actually an oak veneer over cheap pine wood.
One of the best tests that you can apply to almost any true antique table is consistency!
- Look under the top for labels; otherwise it is difficult to attribute a piece to a specific maker, unless it resembles a documented example.
- Beware of pieces that have recently been lacquered to make them more salable on today's market.
- Look for additional screw holes, mismatched hinges or saw/sanding marks that appear to have been made by modern "circular motion" tools such as circular saws and orbital sanders.