Federal Card Tables

Baltimore Card TableI’m pulling together the information for one of my presentations at the 2013 edition of Woodworking in America. On Sunday, I’ll talk on the use of inlay to help identify from what regions Federal-period furniture was built. Also in this class, I’ll demonstrate how a few pieces of banding are constructed. Near the end of the class, out come the hot plates, iron skillets and sand because each person in the class – at least those willing to give it a shot – will shade and assemble a sand-shaded fan. It’s not too late to register for the conference, or to pick up a one-day pass, if you’re in the area.

During the period, string inlay – generally categorized as light and dark (no species given) – was found in all regions. So how do you differentiate between Massachusetts and Maryland? The answer is simple; you evaluate how the stringing was used. Another area where you begin to see differences between regions is as you study banding. And of course, pictorial inlay also helps identify regions.

One of the best ways to study and learn how stringing, banding and inlay can tell the story of where a piece was originally built is to study card tables. When these tables were built, the choices furnituremakers had available were limited to what they produced in the shop, but more often than not, they chose from what specialist had to sell – each region had its own banding and pictorial inlays. Sanderson Card TableYou should, however, be warned that you have to study antique or period card tables and not reproduced tables unless the maker was careful in his or her selection of material.

Today, we can have inlay shipped from all over the country, so it would be difficult to nail down where the pieces were built based upon the decoration. In the opening photo, for example, I reproduced a Baltimore card table and while I added the light string around the top’s edges, which is very characteristic of tables from Maryland and Baltimore, I didn’t pay particular attention to the diamond banding at the lower edge of the apron, or to the oval inlays at the top of each leg.

In the second photo, you also see light stringing used on the top. In this example, though, you’ll notice that the stringing is not at the edges of the top, but set a bit off the edges. A simple call to make – and please keep in mind that these rules are not always adhered to – is that this card table was not built in the Maryland or Baltimore area. In fact, this table is from Massachusetts. You need to look at other features to make that call.

The legs on card tables also provide a good indication as to where a table was built. Card Table UnknownPatterns and designs of bellflowers are distinct from region to region, as are the added inlay at the top of the legs. On the leg shown at the left, the icicle drop (segmented triangles of shaded light-colored inlay) is a good indication that the table was originally built in Connecticut, as that design is often found in the area.

Conversely, the photo at the right is more often found on tables from New York, especially if you study the design of the bellflower drops. The intersecting ovals that surround the bellflowers are found on other pieces from the same region. New York Card LegAnd while it’s possible to identify the origin of card tables and other furniture through the study of inlay, it’s always best to use additional information before making the call. If, for example, I showed you a picture of this last table, and you could see that there were five legs – the extra being the swing leg that supports the opened table top – you would be better informed and could more easily place this table in the New York area.

It should be a fun class. I hope you can make it.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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2 thoughts on “Federal Card Tables

  1. Any plans to record your presentation, or possibly make and release a video? This is something that I am really interested in, but alas, I will not be going to WIA.

  2. Looking forward to it!
    See you in Cincinnatti

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