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Object Details

Maker
Attributed to Robert Harrold (British, American, active 1765-1792)
Date
ca. 1760-1775
Geography
United States: New Hampshire: Portsmouth
Culture
North American
Medium
wood; mahogany; sabicu; soft maple; eastern white pine
Dimensions
Overall: 27 1/2 in x 32 1/2 in x 22 1/2 in; 69.85 cm x 82.55 cm x 57.15 cm
Provenance
John S. Walton, Inc., New York; to the donors in 1959 Gift of Rear Admiral Edward P. Moore and Mrs. Moore
Inscriptions
"This table belongs to Mary Anderson [?] Poore of ... [?] Greenwood [or Greenland], Maine" in pencil on paper pasted to underside of top
Credit Line
Gift of Rear Admiral Edward P. Moore and Mrs. Moore
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1966.0100

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Object Essay

This striking table documents a dramatic shift in fashion in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during the third quarter of the eighteenth century.1Brock 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 (Acc. No. 66.100). While earlier furniture emulates late baroque design in Boston, this table falls within the mainstream of the English rococo. Its design resembles a “China Table” in Chippendale’s Director, and its form relates to surviving English and Irish tables. 2Chippendale, 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.  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.3The 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. I–36); Brooklyn Museum (Girl Scouts, no. 653); and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  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, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 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.” 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.

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.4Members 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. 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.5Now in the Warner House; see n. 3. His estate inventory refers to the table, listing in the back parlor “1 railed Tea Table 48/ [shillings] 1 sett China 24.”6William Whipple, inventory, taken November 15, 1788, docket 5176, Rockingham County Probate Records, Rockingham County Courthouse, Exeter, N.H. 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.7This Table belongs to Mary Anderson [?] Poore of . . . [?], Greenwood [or Greenland], Maine” is written in pencil on a paper label pasted beneath the top.

Brock Jobe

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.