Diplomatic Reception Rooms

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Object Details

Maker
Attributed to Levin Tarr (American, 1772­1821)
Date
ca. 1795
Geography
United States: Maryland: Baltimore
Culture
North American
Medium
wood; mahogany; mahogany veneer; satinwood; yellow-poplar; white oak
Dimensions
Overall: 29 1/2 in x 34 5/8 in x 16 5/8 in; 74.93 cm x 87.9475 cm x 42.2275 cm
Provenance
Ex-collection Charles Weida, Jr., of Greenwich, Connecticut; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Inscriptions
None
Credit Line
Funds donated by The Questors
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1969.0058

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Object Essay

Few cities experienced the extraordinary growth that transformed Baltimore after the close of the Revolutionary War. With the arrival of immigrants from every corner of the British Isles and Europe, it became a cosmopolitan city and the home of many entrepreneurs seeking their fortunes. As fortunes grew, so did the demand for fine homes and furnishings. Consequently, a healthy market was created for the city’s furniture craftsmen, evidenced by the fact that the number of cabinet shops rose from two in 1770 to over fifty in 1800.

Derived from plate 60 of George Hepplewhite’s Guide, an illustration that inspired more Baltimore pieces than perhaps any other, the Collection’s table further reflects English taste in its rich use of pictorial inlays. The eagle inlay, however, makes it clear that, although Baltimore patrons continued to look to England for artistic inspiration, they were very proud of their new country and its symbols. Chosen in 1782 to adorn the Great Seal of the United States, the distinctive eagle was, by the 1790s, embellishing an abundance of furniture and other decorative and useful objects, particularly those made in and around Baltimore.

The eagle typical of Baltimore appears in an oval lozenge with a shaded green background.1For a discussion of the American eagle and its appearance on furniture in the Department of State’s collection, see Pool 1976, 40ff. In its beak, the bird carries an S-curved banner with stars represented as incised crosses. The eagle has a long curved neck; the European heraldic tuft or crest, a motif that first appeared on the 1782 Great Seal but was later removed; smallish wings with long vertical divisions; a shield often with lightly inscribed rows of perpendicular lines; and, most distinctively, the legs and tail executed as a single piece of inlay. With little consistency, the right or the left talons hold a single arrow and an olive branch. The eagles on this card table are characteristic, though their green background has faded. Those eagles over the two left legs face right, and those on the right face left, the most frequently seen pattern.

Many of the finest Baltimore card tables have elaborate pictorial inlays in half-round medallions at the back edge of the top; other widely seen designs are floral blossoms, fans, and eagles. This one has a conch shell extremely similar to one on another eagle-inlaid example.2Baltimore 1947, no. 14. A careful comparison of both tables, however, suggests that they were made by different cabinetmakers who patronized the same inlay maker. Records indicate that most of these inlays came from such Baltimore specialists. Thomas Barrett, for instance, left estate records in 1800 listing hundreds of “shells for inlaying furniture” of various values, some worth as much as $1.10 each.3Baltimore County Accounts of Sale (1800), 2: 688, Maryland State Archives, Annapolis. Thus, the attribution of a piece of Baltimore furniture to a specific cabinetmaker cannot be based on its inlays alone.

This card table fully exemplifies the Baltimore form and closely resembles numerous other examples, including three in the Collection (68.30, funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. Frank L. Wright; 67.7, gift of The Wunsch Americana Foundation; and 72.9, gift of the George Frederick Jewett Foundation).4See Montgomery 1966, no. 321; and Baltimore 1947, nos. 4, 6, 22, 23.

Gregory R. Weidman

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.