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Tea table, rectangular

Origin: America, Virginia, Williamsburg
OH. 26 3/4; OW. 29 1/2; OD. 19 3/8
Mahogany, black walnut (by microanalysis), oak, and yellow pine (by microanalysis).
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1978-11
Appearance: Rectangular table on four cabriole legs with carved pad feet; top rabbeted to receive applied rim or molding; aprons contiguous with cabriole legs; each apron relieved slightly at the center of its lower edge.

Construction: Each rail is a two-part horizontal lamination composed of mahogany on the upper half and a secondary wood on the bottom. The outer surface of the lower half of the rail is faced with a strip of yellow pine that is wedge shaped in cross section and is faced with a mahogany convex molding surmounted by a small bead. This molding extends across the upper ends of the legs and is mitered at the corners. The table top is rabbeted along the edges to receive an edge molding glued and nailed in place. The top is probably joined to the frame by pins driven through the rabbet and concealed by the applied top molding. Glue blocks may have reinforced the joint from below, although evidence of this is not clear.

Materials: Mahogany top, legs, upper half of rails, and applied aprons; black walnut (microanalysis) lower half of end rails; oak lower half of side rails; yellow pine (microanalysis) laminate between lower half of rails and applied aprons.
Label:Like Western utensils for brewing and serving tea, the earliest European and American tea tables were inspired by Asian prototypes. Along with the tea itself, Asian tables were imported into Europe in substantial numbers as tea became popular. Chinese and other Asian tables of that date were generally small and rectangular in form, and the new tea tables made by British cabinetmakers and their colonial counterparts followed suit. Sometimes only the shape, size, and decorative details of the Asian models were closely imitated, as is the case with this Williamsburg table. The projecting top, encircling vertical fascia, and convex-applied skirts with slightly shaped lower edges closely imitate the components of Chinese tables produced during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The cabriole legs with blunted pad feet are reminiscent of those on Chinese stools of the same era.

The technique employed in shaping the legs and feet on this table suggests a date of production from the 1720s to 1740s. Many pad feet were expeditiously produced on a lathe, but the earliest expressions of the form were hand shaped like these, resulting in a closer correlation with the Asian archetype. Hand shaping also accounts for the sinuous, almost fluid, character of this table's overall form, which is quite different from the more mechanical appearance of tables with lathe-turned legs.

Carved pad feet similar to these are found on several early pieces of Williamsburg furniture, including the Speaker's Chair (CWF acc. 1933-504) and a sideboard table that descended in the Custis and Washington families (Smithsonian collection). The CWF tea table is also structurally identical the sideboard table. New research (2004-2005) strongly suggests that all three pieces are the work of Williamsburg cabinetmaker Peter Scott, active in the city from at least 1722 until his death in 1775.
Provenance:The table descended in the Galt family of Williamsburg. The Galts lived in the Nelson-Galt House on Francis Street from the early nineteenth century until 1978. The table was acquired by CWF when the household was broken up in that year after death of Mrs. Mary Ware Galt Kirby (1893-1977) from her daughter, Ann Galt Kirby Black.