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Writing table

ca. 1775
Origin: America, Virginia, eastern
OH. 27 3/4; OW. 31 3/8; OD. 21
Black walnut and tulip poplar.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1986-132
Appearance: Rectangular table with single, full-width drawer; top molded on all four sides; four Marlborough legs with scratch-beaded edges; straight skirts with scratch-beaded edges; original rococo brass.

Construction: The three-board top is butt-joined and secured to the frame with pins. Traditional pinned mortise-and-tenon joinery holds the legs to the frame. Drawer guides are nailed to the inner surfaces of the side rails, and drawer runners are nailed to the guides. The dovetailed drawer has a bottom panel that is chamfered on the underside, set into grooves along the front and sides, and flush-nailed at the rear. There is no blade between the drawer and the table top.

Materials: Black walnut top, front rail, side rails, back rail, drawer front, drawer guides, drawer runners, and legs; tulip poplar drawer sides, drawer back, and drawer bottom.
Label:Representing a form produced throughout the South, this small rectangular table with a full-width single drawer could have been used for dressing, writing, or reading. That it is fully finished on all four sides further suggests that it may have seen service as a tea or breakfast table. In short, such a table would have been equally useful in both public and private spaces, which explains the wide popularity of the form. Like most of its counterparts from the Chesapeake, this particular example was executed in the neat and plain style. Composed entirely of rectilinear elements, its ornamentation is largely confined to the scratch beading of the legs, rails, and drawer front and the deep chamfering of the legs. Optional features on tables of this kind included crossed stretchers, H-plan stretchers, and pierced knee brackets.

In stark contrast to the simplicity of the table's wooden elements is the elaborate original hardware. Of British manufacture, the "rocaille" drawer pull reflects the "French taste" popular in Britain and Europe in the third quarter of the eighteenth century. Characteristic elements of the style include the asymmetrical arrangement of scrolls and volutes and the use of naturalistic elements like the intertwined acanthus foliage, or "raffles," that form the flanking backplates of this pull. It is difficult to explain why the maker of so simple a table would select such flamboyant hardware, yet several equally plain pieces from Virginia and North Carolina carry virtually identical hardware. Perhaps the choice of rococo brasses represented one way to augment an object's level of ornament without adding significantly to its cost.
Provenance:The table was purchased in 1986 from Richmond, Va., antiques dealer Sumpter Priddy III, who had acquired it from the successful bidder at a Valentine Auction sale in the same city. No earlier history is known.