Early American Colonial Furniture Mahogany Tripod Furniture English and Early American Colonial Furniture History


This is a continuation of Early American Colonial Furniture How Designed and Made from the previous page.

The tripod table consists of three elements: the top (which is nearly always detachable, made to revolve on the spindle of the pillar, in a "cage" of four columns) the central pillar, and the tripod stand, the two latter being fixed together. Occasionally, the top is fixed also, in which the "cage" is dispensed with. Where the "cage" is present, it consists of two square pieces (with a hole in the center of each to admit the spindle of the pillar) joined by four squat columns. In the pillar-spindle a slot is cut, into which a wedge of wood, projecting at both sides, is inserted, to secure the "cage" to the pillar. The top is hinged to this "cage" on pivots, and at the opposite end is a spring catch, or snap, which locks the top, when down, to its "cage," until released by the catch.

For this reason these early American colonial furniture tripods were known as "snap tables," in the eighteenth century.Tops are either plain and flat, rectangular, square or round, or are enriched in several ways. The most usual is a dishing, with the edges of the top cut into two or three repeating shapes, and edged with a bead and a flat hollow, in the solid. This is commonly known as the "pie-crust," a name which expresses nothing in particular, and is copied, perhaps, from the small silver trays­"waiters," as they are styled of the period. The next in order is the fretted gallery, (which has to be bent round a shaped top) the fret being generally laminated in three or five layers, in the manner previously described. Then we get the carved, splayed border, sometimes pierced, and lastly, the spindle gallery. Examples of each are illustrated here.

The stems or pillars during the Chippendale and early American colonial furniture period, are curiously alike, compared with the diversity of the tops - a shaft, nearly always fluted, above a leaf-carved vase, and a classical type of base, finishing on the tripod itself. Rarely only is a variation attempted, where the pillar is in the form of a triple or cluster column. In the simple pieces, the pillar is merely turned, without carving, but these are becoming rare, as with later added embellishment, their commercial value is greatly increased. Thus the supply of ornate tripods increases, while the simple ones sensibly diminish in number.

The tripod of the Chippendale  and early American colonial furniture school is nearly always ogival, or cabriole as it is often incorrectly styled, but in the Hepplewhite, this form is reversed, the tripod resting on a tapered toe, on the floor, a form impossible with the Chippendale type. At a later date still the tripod is of a hollow, instead of an ogival form, and this takes us into the late Sheraton Empire style in England, and that of Duncan Phyfe in America, which will be considered later on. To this period belong the two- and three-tier dumb-waiters, which are rare with the ogival tripod, although one example is shown in the illustrations to this chapter.

Early American Colonial Furniture Occasional Tables

Purpose-made Furniture

FASHIONS and habits introduce not only new designs but also new types. Thus, the prevalence of card playing introduces the card table, billiards the billiard table, the fashion for afternoon tea, as a function begets the urn table and the tea table. Just as soon as any habit arises, so do early American colonial furniture  types tend to multiply in view of the possible demand. The very paucity of special pieces, prior to the Restoration , shows how simple was the life of the English people, and how free, comparatively, were they from fashionable habits and functions. The same tendency to satisfy the need of the moment still existed, however. Just so soon as the bed room became an important apartment, in which the great lady held her morning laze, (usually in bed) the bedstead itself became a piece of huge importance, draped with hangings of silks and velvets, tasseled and fringed with bullion and lace. It is safe to say, therefore, that the absence of purpose-made furniture indicates that the habit or pursuit for which it was intended, did not exist at the time.

A careful consideration of certain early American colonial furniture pieces will also tell us much more. It does not require great powers of deduction to assert that a tea table was made for an afternoon function in a private house, or that one of great elaboration and costly character was made for a rich house. Similarly, a card table in a club or "gambling hall" would be sturdy and simple; adequate for its purpose, but no more. We may be sure that one with a needlework top, (such as the well-known example at Penshurst) was made, originally, for a rich man's room, and, equally, was never intended for serious card-playing, for high stakes, such as was customary, in fashionable circles, in the latter half of the eighteenth century.

For similar reasons, we can assume that many of the ornate “architects” tables" (of which a notable example is illustrated here) were never intended for professional architects, but for the dilettanti who played at architecture and draughtsmanship. We know that such existed (the Earl of Burlington is a case in point) from the advertisements of teachers of drawing, who always appealed to the "Noblemen and Gentry," of which, possibly, the female element contributed the greater quota to such classes. Had these tables been used professionally, there is doubt that few, if any, would have survived to our day.

Early American Colonial Furniture Card Tables

CARD TABLES were important articles throughout the whole of the eighteenth century. They were made, sometimes in pairs, but more often singly. The folding or hinged top was the rule, generally lined with cloth inside, lipped with an edging of cross-banded veneer. The support for the opened top was variously contrived. Sometimes one only of the back legs swings out on a vertical wooden hinge, occasionally both are hinged. The line of the top framing, by this method, is not continuous, a gap being left by the swung-out leg. A better method, and one usually found in tables of high quality, is where both legs are drawn backward, on a double hinged extension, which is kept rigid by a frame or a slat pulled in grooves provided on the inside of such extensions. When opened, the framing or understructure to the top is continuous, where this method (known as the "concertina-side") is adopted. Both of the back legs must be withdrawn simultaneously, of course.

With the productions of the Hepplewhite early American colonial furniture school we have three distinct classifications, all of which are illustrated here, the tapered, the turned, and the shaped cabriole, or French leg. With the exception of the turning, and the omission of the square leg, the work of the Chippendale and early American colonial furniture  school follows much the same evolutionary course. The French Louis XV manner does not belong to the style of Sheraton or his followers, who preferred to follow that of the next reign.

Early American Colonial Furniture Tea Tables

THE early American colonial furniture tea table, made especially for tea equipage, is more often found in mahogany than in other woods. It is usually oblong,with a slight dishing of the top, and the cabriole was the favorite form of leg. In the Hepplewhite and Sheraton periods the double-flap, or Pembroke table was generally substituted. The Pembroke form is a bridge-piece overlapping the Chippendale and the Hepplewhite, being sometimes found in a manner belonging to the former rather than the latter.

An accompanying piece was the urn table, made to support the silver or plated hot-water urns of the period. The water was heated before being placed in these urns, and kept to a high temperature by a heated cylindrical piece of iron made to fit into a separate casing inside the urn itself, to avoid contact of the iron with the water. A small pull-out slide was provided for the teapot when being filled or refilled. The secret of making tea with water absolutely boiling was unknown at this date, and is far from being general in early American colonial furniture at the present day.

Urn tables of the Chippendale early American colonial furniture period are rare, and nearly always square with outward splayed legs. In the Hepplewhite and Sheraton manners they are sometimes oval or circular. They are among the most dainty of all the pieces which these two periods can show, and both Hepplewhite and Sheraton illustrate examples in the "Guide" and the "Drawing Book," respectively.

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