Federal Inlaid Mahogany Card Table
This fine Federal-period card table has been attributed to Massachusetts, but many characteristics of its construction and ornament point strongly toward Providence as the place of its manufacture. It is fashioned in an unusual shape—square with round corners—that is found on a substantial number of Providence tables but rarely seen elsewhere. The use of overlapping, flyleg construction and the secondary woods also suggest a Providence origin.1See Hewitt et al., no. 245, 181.The table is inscribed on the underside of the top: “This inlaid Table was/ given to Aunt Harmony/ Hamilton by her Step–Mother/ who was a native of/ East Haddam Conn–and/ went back there after/ Grandfather Emmons death/ in 1835– (Aunt Mary gives it to Charly).” “Aunt Mary” in the above inscription would seem to be Mary E. Church, and a later descendant’s name, Caroline C. McElwain, is also included in a second inscription, torn and largely illegible. It descended in the Emmons-Hamilton-McElwain families, to the grandfather of the donor. For additional information on provenance, see Conger and Rollins, Treasures of State, cat. no. 122 (Acc. No. 69.83).
Although the inlaid urns on the leg pilasters also appear on Boston tables, and the “checkerboard pattern” inlay is found on Boston and New Hampshire tables, the eagle on the center of this facade is not common on other card tables. Several features distinguish this inlay from other closely related examples, including the use of eighteen stars, the eagle facing to its left, a lesser degree of articulation in the bird’s wing feathers, and the visibility of one leg.2The inlays are pictured in Hewitt et al., 75, 76, 78, and 80, and their frequency is charted there, 184–86.
The satinwood veneer adds considerably to the visual appeal of this table and was an expensive option when it was built. Cabinetmakers prized satinwood for its fine “straw colour cast” and its “cool, light, and pleasing effect in furniture.”3Sheraton 1803, 2: 314. “Close in the grain, of a pale yellow colour, and elegantly veined, it presented an agreeable variety to the more sombre coloured woods” such as mahogany.4Blackie, 22.
Gerald W. R. Ward
Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.