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  • Artist/MakerHarold, Robert (working 1765-1792)
  • Date Madeca. 1765-1775
  • Place MadeUSA: New Hampshire, Portsmouth
  • MaterialsWood; Mahogany; Sabicu; Soft Maple; Eastern White Pine
  • Measurements2'8" l. x 1'10" w. x 2'4" h.
  • Gift of Admiral and Mrs. Edward P. Moore
  • RoomThe John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room
  • Accession #1966.0100

China Table

This striking table documents a dramatic shift in fashion in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during the third quarter of the eighteenth century.[1] While earlier furniture emulates late baroque design in Boston, this table falls within the mainstream of the English rococo. In fact, were it not for its American secondary woods and provenance, the table could easily be mistaken for a British example. Its design resembles a "China Table" in Chippendale's Director, and its form relates to several surviving English and Irish tables.[2] In all likelihood, an English immigrant, probably the noted Portsmouth artisan Robert Harrold, introduced the pattern to Portsmouth and, in the process, transformed the taste of the town's most affluent residents.

Seven china tables from Portsmouth are known.[3] All originally had a railed gallery, fretwork brackets, and serpentine stretchers rising to a central plinth and pierced finial.  In addition, all but one of the tables have molded legs and plain rails. The exception, now at the Carnegie Museum of Art, has the added embellishment of applied fretwork on the legs and rails. On six of the tables, the legs and top are solid mahogany and the rails are mahogany veneer on maple; the Collection’s table varies in having its top fashioned of sabicu, a tropical wood sometimes referred to as “horseflesh.”  Mortise-and-tenon joints bind the rails to the legs. The top, usually a single board, is nailed to the frame, but often reinforced with small white pine blocks glued to the top and frame. Only the tables at the Department of State and the Carnegie Museum retain their original galleries. In each case, the gallery consists of a laminate of three mahogany strips set into a groove in the top and fastened with two diagonal splines at the mitered corners. The gallery covers the nails that fasten the top. Each stretcher is a single carved element joined to the central plinth with a sliding dovetail and fastened to the leg with an iron brace screwed to the underside of the stretcher and directly into the leg. Similar braces made of wood are used on many Portsmouth Pembroke tables.

Early histories of ownership link the tables to Portsmouth's wealthiest families. The example at the Carnegie Museum was acquired by Stephen Chase (1742–1805), a prominent local merchant, while another bears the chalk signature of its owner, the merchant William Knight. A third table and its matching urn stand belonged to John Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire until 1775, and later descended in the Wendell family.[4] A fourth table, which originally had a companion stand, was owned by William Whipple (1730–1785), a leading local merchant, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a Revolutionary War general.[5] His estate inventory refers to the table, listing in the back parlor "1 railed Tea Table 48/ [shillings] 1 sett China 24."[6] Whipple's handsome table, adorned with an elegant tea service, served as the centerpiece of the room. The table at the Department of State undoubtedly fulfilled a similar role, although its early history remains a mystery.[7]
 
Brock Jobe
 
Notes
1. Brock Jobe, ed., Portsmouth Furniture:  Masterworks from the New Hampshire Seacoast (Boston:  Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, 1993), cat. no. 49; see also cat. no. 48.  The table is also catalogued in Conger and Rollins Treasures of State, cat. no. 61.
 
2. Chippendale, pl. LI, offers a precedent for the Collection's table, but it is far too elaborate to have served as the immediate source. For related English and Irish tables, see Macquoid 3:235; advertisement, Antiques 86, no. 6 (December 1964), 693; Hinckley, 205, 207, figs 374,378; DAPC, 59.1933, Robert Wemyss Symonds Collection of Photographs, Winterthur.
 
3. The tables are located at the Department of State; the Warner House in Portsmouth (Jane C. Giffen, "The Moffatt-Ladd House at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Pt. 1," Connoisseur 171 [October 1970]: 117); Strawbery Banke Museum (Lockwood, 2:209-10, fig. 738); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Heckscher 1985, no. 118); Carnegie Museum (Jobe and Kaye, figs. 1-36); Brooklyn Museum (Girl Scouts, no. 653); and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
 
4. Members of the Wendell family donated the table to Strawbery Banke Museum in 1988 and the stand to the Warner House in 1989. The table is discussed in n. 3; for an illustration of the stand, see Biddle 1963, no. 84.
 
5. Now in the Warner House; see n. 3.
 
6. William Whipple, inventory, taken November 15, 1788, docket 5176, Rockingham County Probate Records, Rockingham County
Courthouse, Exeter, New Hampshire.
 
7.   "This Table belongs to Mary Anderson [?] Poore of. .. [?], Greenwood [or Greenland], Maine" is written in pencil on a paper label pasted beneath the top

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