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Card table

Origin: America, Virginia, Norfolk
OH. 29; OW. 35 3/8; OD. (open) 36; OD. (closed) 18.
Mahogany, yellow pine, white pine, soft maple, and lightwood and resinous inlays.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1987-729
Appearance: rectangular card table with indented ovolo corners; five tapered legs, four stationary, one hinged; inlaided ornaments on rails and legs.

Construction: The white pine front and corner rails and the yellow pine side rails are veneered in mahogany. The front rail is tenoned into the front legs, and the side rails and inner rear rail are fixed to the rear legs in the same fashion. Each rear corner joint is reinforced by a single quarter-round glue block. The two ovolo corner rails, shaped on both faces, are horizontally laminated and secured to the side rails and front legs with three screws at each joint. Seven rosehead nails driven from the inside attach the fixed hinge rail to the inner rear rail. The finger hinge on the swing rail invades, but does not pierce, the back surface of the inner rear rail when open. The frame is secured to the lower leaf with eight screws set in wells in the rails. A single rear leaf-edge tenon stabilizes the upper leaf when open.

Materials: Mahogany top, legs, and rail veneers; yellow pine side rail cores; white pine front rail core, corner rail cores, inner rear rail, and glue blocks; soft maple hinge rails; light and dark wood inlays accented with pitch or mastic.
Label:The New York City furniture trade exerted a powerful influence over cabinetmaking in coastal southern cities during the decades just after the Revolution, a development that is especially evident in this five-legged card table from Norfolk, Virginia. Between 1790 and 1810, Norfolk card tables were more often executed in this standard New York format than in any other. The Norfolk tables feature nearly all of the same structural and organizational elements found on the New York prototypes--rectangular tops with indented ovolo corners, hinged fifth legs, rear leaf-edge tenons intended to combat warping of the leaves, and laminated cores behind the ovolo corner rails. The division of the front rails into five panels defined by stringing and often augmented with pictorial inlays also follows the New York pattern. There can be little doubt that the overall configuration came to Virginia in the form of imported New York tables or via immigrant craftsmen, both resources readily at hand in Federal Norfolk.

The character of the decorative inlays on this table and several other pieces of Norfolk furniture also reveal that cabinet wares from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, were a source of influence for some Norfolk artisans. Several Portsmouth tables feature legs with string inlay that continues all the way to the floor, a detail found on this and many other Norfolk pieces. More compelling still is a comparison between the unusual pagodalike bellflowers on tables made by Langley Boardman (1774-1833) of Portsmouth and those on the CWF table. Boardman's bellflowers lack the black detailing seen on the Norfolk inlays, but in profile the two are almost indistinguishable.

In addition to their secondary woods, one of the few things that sets the Norfolk tables apart from their northern prototypes is the way the dark inlays on the legs and rails were created. The black stringing and detailing on this table were formed by incising lines into solid wood and filling them with mastic or pitch. The extensive use of such inlay techniques is rarely encountered on other American furniture.

In view of their strong resemblance to New York tables, it is likely that more Norfolk card tables of this general form exist but have not been identified, particularly since so many pieces of southern furniture were marketed without histories during the early part of the twentieth century. Indeed, the CWF table was identified as "possibly New York" by the New England auction house that represented it in 1987. Only the yellow pine secondary wood, the inlay details noted above, and this table's clear relationship to other examples with strong Norfolk histories revealed its true place of origin.
Provenance:The table was sold at auction on June 6, 1987, by Skinner's, Bolton, Mass., to John Walton, Inc., Jewett City, Conn. It was acquired from Walton for CWF by Priddy & Beckerdite, Richmond, Va., later the same year.