Colonial Homes in Design of Early American Colonial FurnitureHistory of Early American Colonial Furniture


Trestle table.

Trestle table. Of ancient lineage, these tables were easily stored and quickly assembled. Few survive from our period. Oak and pine. New England. 17th century. Length 1461 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs Russell Sage, 1909.

Framed table and a pair of joint forms.

Framed table and a pair of joint forms. The top of the table is removable and consists of two planks joined by a cleat. Table: oak, possibly Pennsylvania, 1690- 1715. Forms: pear wood, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania.

Gate-leg table with folding top.

Gate-leg table with folding top. The top is marbleised. Oak and maple. Essex County, Massachusetts. 1675-1700. Diameter of top 36 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs J. Insley Blair, 1951.

Several decorative styles early American colonial furniture may be detected in these tables, most particularly as revealed in the turnings of their legs. The gate-leg table at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, having a trapezoidal frame and a folding, marbleised top, has the eccentric form, bulbous legs, and applied spindle-and-boss decoration of furniture influenced by the Mannerist style of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The court cupboard at the Winterthur Museum reflects similar influences. Such pieces were made in the colonies until about 1700, and they may be seen to have been the joiner's last 'conceit' in the manufacture early American colonial furniture which directly reflected the programmatic or stylish trends that had taken place earlier in Europe.

Spiral turnings like those of the drop-leaf table at the Winterthur Museum date from the Restoration to about the turn of the century, though there were precedents for the spiral motif before 1660 in European designs for furniture. Such turnings, seen also in a chair and in several objects in the Flock Room at Winterthur, are echoes of the Baroque style in the New World.

Another motif of the Baroque style is the vase form, illustrated here in the vase and cup turnings of the large mahogany table that originally belonged to George III's Superintendent for Indian Affairs. The vase turning may be observed in some of the furniture of the early 17th century, but the allusion to the vase became clearer in the late 1600s as turners reduced the bandings and other turnings to achieve the lighter, crisper, and more delicate effects, made possible, in part, by the use of hard woods like walnut, maple, and cherry.

The early American colonial furniture leaf table with an oval top, compact and easy to move, was much more suited than its long counterpart to the smaller, more intimate domestic settings of the late 17th century and afterwards. William Penn, in 1685, asked his American steward to have made 'two or three eating tables for twelve, eight and five persons with falling leaves in them,' and the Boston diarist, Samuel Sewall, reported in 1719 that guests in his home 'Had a very good Diner, at four tables, two in the best Room.' The leaves of the drop-leaf table at Winterthur are supported by wooden bars that slide out from the frame. A more typical means of support was the gate leg which swung underneath the leaf, one version being illustrated by the gate-leg table with folding top at the Metropolitan Museum and another by drop-leaf tables having one and two gate legs supporting each of two semicircular leaves.

Drop-leaf table with spiral-turned legs.

Drop-leaf table with spiral-turned legs. American walnut and white pine. Middle Colonies. 1680-1720. Top (maximum) 55 1/4 in. The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Delaware.

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