Federal Mahogany Card Table; Annapolis, c.1790
a Federal inlaid mahogany card table, Annapolis, c.1790; confidently attributed to the shop of John Shaw based on its’ varying commonalities with the four labeled card tables pictured below; this example, essentially a “Rosetta Stone” of sorts, effectively substantiates the transition of structural differences between the documented serpentine and demilune forms produced by the Shaw shop; the figured mahogany is extremely dense and heavy, indicative of being produced by only the most select of Annapolis cabinetmakers; the table is in excellent condition and enjoys an older, nut brown finish; there is a small (1/2″ x 2″) patch to the underside of the fly leaf at the leaf-joint tenon; oak, yellow pine, and tulip poplar secondary woods; dimensions: 29 1/4″ tall x 36″ wide x 17 3/4″ deep
*All following descriptions regarding the construction of the four labeled John Shaw card tables were gleaned from either Alexander Lourie’s “Have Honestly and Fairly Laboured for Money”: William and Washington Tuck and Annapolis Cabinetmaking, 1795-1838 or William Elder and Lu Bartlett’s John Shaw Cabinetmaker of Annapolis.
Sasha Lourie believes the actual maker of the table pictured above was William Tuck, a workman in Shaw’s shop. Its’ label is inscribed with the initials W. T. Aesthetically, this example has the most in common with our table, including the oval pictorial inlays, the apron stringing, the conforming trapezoidal leg stringing which returns on itself above the cuff or spade foot, and the rounded leaf edges. Structurally, both tables use white oak for the fly rail, yellow pine for the inner rail, and laminated tulip poplar for the apron rails. Both lack a medial brace, employ a single overlapping fly leg, and have only one central leaf-edge tenon. Neither table has the “wood filler strips” between the stationary outer rail and inner rail as seen on both labeled serpentine examples pictured below. The two front pictorial ovals are “Baltimore” eagles while those on the sides are oak leaves and acorns, similar to, and very possibly from, the same source as the four thistle inlays on our table. It is generally agreed upon that by the late 18th century most pictorial inlays used by Annapolis makers were procured from a Baltimore source, as they are widely seen on Federal Baltimore-made furniture. While this labeled example employs five layers of laminated brick-work to form its’ apron rail, ours uses the same single lamination found in the serpentine card tables made by the Shaw shop.
This labeled demilune table is a relatively recent discovery. It utilizes the same secondary woods, rounded leaf edges, single leaf tenon, multi-laminated apron (5 layers), leg inlay, and spade feet. Unlike the “Eagle” example, it has two overlapping swing legs. The rounded leaf edges of both labeled demilune tables have stepped corners carved above and below the semicircular edge, creating a true astragal profile. Our example’s edge moulding has a more gradual, concave transition carved above and below its’ rounded edge, essentially a middling between the plain Chippendale bullnose and Federal astragal profiles, both seen on table edges produced in Shaw’s shop.
These two labeled serpentine examples and ours have much in common construction-wise, specifically the use of one fly leg, a single leaf tenon, one horizontal lamination forming the curved rails, and no medial brace. All three tables use oak for the working rail, yellow pine for the inner rail, and tulip poplar for the apron rails. The pictorial inlays on the second example (of a plant in a vase resting on a wall bracket), although rarer than the oak leaves or thistles, are also seen on other Baltimore attributed pieces. Like ours, the apron veneers on both serpentine tables are installed with their figured graining running across the rail in a vertical orientation. On the two labeled demilune examples the grain is placed in a horizontal, longitudinal orientation. The leg inlay on the serpentine examples abuts the cuffs rather than returning on itself to form a conforming trapezoid. While simple in execution, and certainly not unique to his shop, this squaring off of of the stringing, about one half of an inch above either the cuff, spade foot, or often plain leg terminus, is strongly associated with the “John Shaw School”.
No details are known regarding the structural details of this table. It certainly has several “Shaw School” attributes. The placement of the leg stringing at the extreme edge of the legs as well as that stringing abutting shorter ebony feet, are details not associated with his shop.