This is a rare example of early New York Furniture with hoofed feet, which is beautifully executed throughout. It is indeed a treasure, and is best described by the following complete discussion of this piece by the late John Bivins, a noted gunstocker, carver, and expert in Southern decorative arts.
Dropleaf table, attributed to New York city, 1725-35, Estate Antiques, Charleston, S.C.
The single flush-fitted drawer, evidence of drawer hardware, and details of style and construction identify this table with the period of emergence of the earliest American dropleaf tables, at a time when gateleg tables were still being produced. Of mahogany, white oak (the gate frame and flees) and sweet gum (the drawer frames and drawer supports, all by microanalysis by Harry Alden), the table also represents a very early use of mahogany in this country. In this instance, the wood is Sweitenia macrophylla, or Honduras, and the quality of the material is unremarkable. That is, sapwood is evident on the inside surfaces of the legs, and the material is open-pored. Interestingly, a North Carolina hoof-foot bed of about the same date in the MESDA collection (Winston-Salem, N.C.) is entirely of mahogany, and shows sapwood at each knee of the legs as well as on the corners of two rails. Such flaws may be more common on mahogany imported to America during the early part of the 18th century. On the table, mahogany was also used in a secondary position: the drawer bottom.
Sweet gum, Liguidambar styraciflua, in addition to the drawer frame and drawer supports mentioned above, was also used for a pair of drawer stops (visual analysis), one of which remains, and a cross-brace nailed into open mortises at the bottom of the frame (also visual analysis). Four well-known botanical sources indicate that the east coast range of sweet gum wood encompasses the area from Long Island south to central Florida. Sweet gum is not indigenous to Britain or the Continent, but is found in furniture from New York south to the lower Chesapeake (Virginia and North Carolina, where it particularly is found on or in pre-1750 furniture).
Like the style of the table, construction is of urban quality. For example, the mortise and tenon joints are unpinned, and the drawer dovetailing is of a more delicate nature than expected on much American furniture of this period. A very unusual feature is the use of one-piece gate frames rather than the normal separate gate frame nailed to an inner frame. This construction demanded a great deal of extra work in cutting the hinge segments for the flies. On this table, the gate frames are mortised into the fixed leg on one end and dovetailed to the opposite frame . The dovetail joints were concealed with vertical strips of "veneer" glued into rabbets at the corners. Both of these strips had been replaced (a photograph of one of the rabbets with the modern strip removed is available). The dovetailing is opposite that of normal table construction, for the pins lie in the plane of the end skirts rather than being exposed at the sides of the frame. At the drawer end, the ends of the dovetail pins of the upper and lower rails of the skirt are exposed in the frame at the left side (see photos for this and other details).
The top, which originally was fastened to the frame with screws fitting screw pockets inside the frame, has been removed and returned to its original position, but now is attached to the frame with glue blocks. Original scribed centering and position lines indicate that the present position of the top is correct. This is corroborated by the location of the empty screw holes in the top, which were checked by probing through the screw pockets. The iron hinges are original (as well as at least two of the screws which fasten them), three of them signed "I T" in a serrated touch. They were not inletted into the top, and the flies and frame consequently were notched to clear them. It seems probable that this was done to avoid weakening the leaf joints, but surface-mounted hinges also can be found on gateleg tables, suggesting the continuation of an earlier technological convention.
The hoof foot is an exceptionally rare detail on American furniture, although it was common enough in Britain and France. Abroad, it is a detail that tends to occur during the first quarter of the 18th century. It occurs in Marot's published plates of the early 18th century, and no doubt was in use in Paris before 1700. The feet on this table are particularly sculptural, having fully-developed fetlocks and hooves like those of a horse. Interestingly, a 1749 Elizabeth City County, Virginia probate inventory listed a black walnut table with colt's feet." An unusual treatment on this table is the incised representation of hair above the hooves. Also incised, and cut with a V-shaped parting tool. as the hair was, is the "shodding" of the hooves. That is, the representation of the edges of horseshoes on the feet.
Almost certainly from the same shop is a mahogany dropleaf table illustrated in Lewis Hinckley's Directory of Queen Anne, Early Georgian and Chippendale Furniture (fig.176, p.113), and attributed to Ireland. Hinckley was long associated with Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc. of New York, and virtually all of the illustrations in this book are halftones made for sale catalogs issued by that firm, so presumably the table was sold by Parke-Bernet, now Sotheby's. The only substantial stylistic difference between the Hinckley table and the Estate Antiques example is a slight swelling of the legs above the feet of the former example. Every other visible feature, including the shodding of the feet and the flush bead of the frame, appears to be identical with that of the Estate Antiques table.
Other than the usual kasten, very little has been published about the early furniture of New York city, but there is substantial
evidence of a large body work from there which pre-dates the mid-18th century. Photocopies of four examples attributable to New York are attached; several of these--as well as other examples not shown here--reveal details which lead to an attribution of the Estate Antiques table to that city.
The first example is a 1745-50 cabriole high chest of cherry with yellow pine and white oak secondary; it was found in Red Bank, New Jersey in the early 1960s. It retains its original brasses. It has full dust boards of yellow pine. The squat proportions,
heavy bed molding at the bottom of the upper case, and shaping of the skirt are typical of earlier six-leg high chests, but the blunt "slipper" feet are a common New York detail of the mid-18th century. Other details typical of New York (as well as the lower Chesapeake) are the molded leg stiles and the flush beading outlining all of the skirt shaping, no doubt a remnant of the earlier cockbead used in the same location. These features have not been noted on furniture made north of New York.
A second cabriole high chest of approximately the same period, but of walnut, yellow pine, poplar, and white oak, sold by Charles Navis of Richmond in the 1960s, has the same sunk bead following the skirt shaping. Significantly, the leg profiles of
this chest are virtually identical to the dropleaf tables. Most significantly, the tops of the knees, where the leg breaks into
the vertical plane of the leg stiles, is shaped in a radius which continues down the knee as well as onto the knee responds. Some early Boston cabriole furniture reveals a hint of this radiused knee profile, but with nothing of the fully-developed curve noted on the New York chests. Other than the slight curve of the knee line of some Boston pieces, no other New England furniture has been observed with a curve that extends beyond the knee responds; the rest of the upper knee line is straight. The "New York knee," however, occurs in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
Related to these chests is a ca. 1740s piece that has been described as a dressing table, but in reality may have been either the base of a small high chest, is in the collection of Tryon Palace in New Bern, N.C. The top has been added. Of walnut and yellow pine, the table has the "New York" knee as well as molded leg stiles, and unusual leg carving along with pierced foot talons. The knee blocks are replaced, but follow existing skirt shaping and the carving on the inner edges of the legs. Essentially the same format may be noted on an early easy chair sold by Sotheby's in 1989; this chair is from the same shop as another easy chair with a Maryland history, a walnut base, and a frame made entirely of beech. While these chairs and the Tryon
Palace table have no particularly important stylistic relationship with the dropleaf tables, they reveal the range, complexity, and unusual nature of early work attributable to New York.
While the origin of the Hinckley table is unknown at this time, the Estate Antiques table is attributed to New York on the basis of the drmatically radiused shape of its upper knee line, the profile of the legs, the flush bead following the shaping of both skirts, and the early use of mahogany--a wood which occurs in New York gateleg tables as well as on New York kasten, usually as
molded surrounds for panels. The early date of the Estate Antiques table is corroborated by the evidence of a single drop brass on the drawer; a secondary set of clinch holes inside the drawer indicate that the "cotter pin" of the brass was replaced at one time. When the drop brass finally failed entirely, it was replaced with the present single-piercing plate brass of 1745-55. The left nut of the present brass was shimmed with a piece of leather long ago; the shim is still present.
Modern repairs to the table, in addition to the present method of top attachment, entail a small patch to the lower side of the
skirt shaping on the skirt opposite the drawer end, the replacement of the strips which covered the dovetail joints of the frame, replacement of most of the hinge screws, the replacement of one leaf hinge pin, the addition of a woodscrew through the top of one gate frame to repair a split (this should be removed), and refinishing. One leaf is tipped, but that joint is original to the table. All of the tool marks throughout the table--such as the chatter marks of finish and rabbet planes--are contiguous, as are the form of the nails used (slit-head wrought finishing nails in the drawer supports, drawer stop, and drawer bottom; the only variance is the pair of rose-head nails fastening the frame cross-brace). In short, the table is in fine condition and shows no significant alteration whatsoever.
The presence of sweet gum leaves no doubt of the American origin of the Estate Antiques table. If the Hinckley table is British, that suggests the interesting possibility of an immigrant artisan. This possibility is strengthened by a closely-related table in the collection of Montacute House, Somerset, England, a property of the National Trust. The table at Montacute has feet virtually ·identical to the others, and shares the same flush-beaded skirt shaping and radiused upper knee line. A significant detail is the finish of the hinge joints. At each end of the fixed portion of the top, a block was glued to the underside of the top at each side, just under the hinge joints. These blocks were shaped off in a fashion intended to make the hinge joints at the ends appear to be a full "barrel" joint rather than just a normal rule joint. In this country, the same unusual detail may be found on early New York dining tables, but hasn't been seen elsewhere on the East Coast.
The precise provenance of the table has not been established. A typed letter and handwritted descriptive notes were found in
the drawer. Dated 16 December 1975, the letter was written by Lucille L. Collins of Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Not addressed to any individual, the letter nevertheless offered the table for sale. Ms. Collins has not been located to date.
Examined, 10 December 1991
Small Pembroke tables like this are rare and this table is one of the rarest of the rare. Note the beautiful shaping of the leg. It is indeed the work of a master. Note the rear toe on our example, which is usually left out. (See scanned David Franklin Ltd. ad below which illustrates a nearly identical table with a less pronounced rear toe and no drawer in the apron. Also note that the apron on both tables are very deep and appear to have the same cut out, possibly from the same shop.) The brass pull on the drawer is an old replacement.
Height: 29 in. Width: 14 in. - 40 1/2 in. Length: 35 1/2 in.