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Card table

Origin: America, Maryland, Baltimore
OH: 29 1/2"; OW: 35 1/2"; OD closed: 17 1/2"
Mahogany, yellow pine, tulip poplar, and oak with lightwood inlays.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1996-1
Appearance: half-round card table with 2 stationery legs and 2 swing legs; top leaves with unmolded edges and corner stringing; top of upper leaf with inlaid complex fan, triple stringing, and cross-banding at edge; playing surface with single stringing; veneered front rails with rectangular panels of triple stringing and lower edges defined by complex banding consisting of dentil pattern and triple stringing; each leg with cross-banded oval inlay on pilaster; front legs with panels of single stringing, chains of four bellflowers separated by dots and supported by two-color rope inlay, narrow complex banded cuff inlays, and ebonized feet; rear legs mimic front legs but feature bellflowers on two faces instead of one.

Construction: The leaves are of solid, single-board construction. The front rail is composed of a sawn, horizontally laminated, three-layer core shaped on both sides and faced with veneers and inlays. It is dovetailed to the inner rear rail, and the resulting joints are reinforced with vertically grained quarter-round glue blocks. Each front leg is secured to the front rail with a glued bridle joint reinforced by a single screw. A full-height medial rail is dovetailed to the front and rear rails. Screws driven through the inner rear rail secure a spacer block and the central fixed hinge rail. Two swing hinge rails ride on knuckle joints and are tenoned into the rear legs. When closed, the swing hinge rails overlap the ends of the front rail. A single rear leaf-edge tenon and corresponding mortise appear on the back of the upper and lower leaves, respectively. The frame is secured to the top with six screws set in wells and a series of small, widely spaced glue blocks. The feet are veneered in ebonized tulip poplar below the cuff inlays.

Materials: Mahogany top, legs, front rail veneers, cross-banding on upper leaf, and some inlays; yellow pine front rail laminates; tulip poplar remaining front rail laminates, medial rail, inner rear rail, rear rail spacer block, glue blocks, and foot veneers; oak fixed hinge rail and swing hinge rails; lightwood inlays.
Label:Although the ornamentation seen on neoclassical card tables from Baltimore varies considerably, the details of overall form and construction are surprisingly consistent. This table is a textbook example that bears all the standard elements of Baltimore work. Its half-round shape, the most popular for card tables made in post-Revolutionary Baltimore, was found on nearly two-thirds of the local examples surveyed by Benjamin Hewitt, Patricia Kane, and Gerald Ward in their study of neoclassical American card tables from the northern and Middle Atlantic states. The study also observed that the majority of Baltimore card tables feature two rear swing legs instead of one, and that these legs overlap the ends of the front rail when closed, as seen here. A dovetailed medial rail like the one set between the front and rear skirts of this table was encountered on 60% of the Baltimore tables in the Hewitt-Kane-Ward study. Finally, every table in the survey contained oak and/or yellow pine secondary woods, both of which are used in the present example.

Despite such consistency, it is often possible to distinguish between tables from different Baltimore shops by examining ornamentation and minor structural details closely. There is little doubt that this table was made in the shop of Levin S. Tarr (1772-1821), who was first recorded in Baltimore in 1794. Almost nothing is known of Tarr's training and background, or whether he worked as a journeyman or an independent artisan after completing an apprenticeship about 1793. Surviving documents do reveal that in June 1800 he formed a short-lived cabinet- and chair making partnership with Thomas Sherwood, and that by 1803 Tarr had moved his business to Light Street, where it remained for the rest of his life. Like most cabinetmakers, Tarr applied his woodworking skills to a variety of different tasks. One of his specialties was the production of Venetian blinds, a trade that his son would carry on for decades after Tarr died in 1821.

Tarr's products are readily identifiable thanks to the survival of a half-round pier table inscribed "Levin Tarr May 2, 1799" (collection of the Maryland Historical Society). The distinctive pattern of ornamentation found on the pier table closely matches that on the CWF card table and on at least five other virtually identical examples. Decorative elements common to the group include: twelve-point fan inlays on the upper surfaces; cross-banded oval inlays on the pilasters above the legs; chains of three-part Baltimore-style bellflowers suspended from rope-pattern stringing and separated by inlaid dots; and feet veneered below the cuff inlay with panels of ebonized tulip poplar and other light-colored woods. Tarr's tables generally feature small, widely spaced, and heavily chamfered glue blocks placed beneath the top along the front, rear, and medial rails. Many of these same details are found together on a series of Baltimore sideboard tables, sofas, and at least one bottle case, all of which can be tentatively ascribed to the Tarr shop.

Only one other piece of documented Tarr furniture is known. A plain-style breakfast table signed by the artisan and dated 1806 (MESDA collection), it exhibits some of the structural details of the other tables in the group, yet it also bears a number of differences. In a busy and productive shop, it was not uncommon for the workers to adopt different approaches to construction and decoration, particularly when the master employed journeyman cabinetmakers trained elsewhere. Whether or not Tarr's shop fits this description is not known.
Provenance:The table was collected in the early twentieth century by Mrs. John S. Gibbs of Cherriconal [spelling?], an estate near Baltimore. It descended to her daughter, who bequeathed it to her husband, J. McKenney Willis, who made a gift of the table to his daughter, Ethel Macgill.