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Object Details

Maker
Unknown
Date
ca. 1765-1790
Geography
United States: New Hampshire: Portsmouth
Culture
North American
Medium
wood; mahogany; cherry; birch; hickory; eastern white pine
Dimensions
Overall: 27 5/8 in x 24 1/2 in x 30 1/4 in; 70.1675 cm x 62.23 cm x 76.835 cm
Provenance
Acquired by Mrs. Charles Hallam Keep in the early 20th century; sold by her daughter at Parke-Bernet Galleries, Sale 2215, October 19, 1963, Lot 144; to Israel Sack, Inc., New York; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Inscriptions
None
Credit Line
Funds given by an Anonymous Donor
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1969.0017.1

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Object Essay

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, affluent residents favored a particular pattern of the Pembroke table. The handsome example at the Department of State is one of more than a dozen of almost identical design.1It is published in Sack Collection, 1:276. The Collection includes four Portsmouth Pembroke tables, the largest number at any institution. Though exhibited as two pairs (69.17.1.81–.2 [.2 not illustrated] and 73.54.1–.2 [not illustrated], funds donated by Miss Louise Ines Doyle), all of the tables differ slightly and were undoubtedly assembled as pairs long after their construction. Three descended in the Warner, Wendell, and Hale families of Portsmouth, and a pair belonged to Richard Hart (1733–1820), a prominent local merchant.2The Warner, Wendell, and Hart tables are owned privately; the Hale table is on loan to Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. For an illustration of the Hart tables, see Antiques 54, no. 6 (December 1948), 407. In this advertisement, Walton attributed the tables; both branded “R. HART,” to a Newburyport maker of that name. Similar examples customarily received the same attribution until Myrna Kaye proved that the brand referred to the owner of the table, a merchant in Portsmouth, not an unknown cabinetmaker in Newburyport. See Kaye, 1099–100; For more information on Hart’s furniture, see Benes, 10–11. All of the tables have fretwork brackets, serpentine leaves, a beaded rail below the drawer front, and a lapped cross stretcher pierced in either a heart or carrot pattern. Within the group, the quality of craftsmanship varies subtly. This table represents the best expression of the form. Its ornate brackets (of which the rear set is replaced) and gracefully curved stretchers with large sculptural piercings distinguish it from the majority of its counterparts.3The brackets on a companion table (Acc. No. 69.17.2 [not illustrated]) in the Collection are modern, undoubtedly made to match those on the table pictured here. Both tables belonged to Mrs. Charles Hallam Keep in the early 20th century, but are not a pair. See n. 1.

In construction, all of the Portsmouth tables are similar. Each has a single wide drawer with a broad arched bead on the top edge of the drawer sides; each leaf is supported by two flaps; and the lap joint at the center of the cross stretchers is reinforced with four small clinched nails. As on many English tables, the stretchers are not tenoned to the legs but are fitted with braces, screwed to the underside of each stretcher and directly into the leg. Even the hardware on the tables originally corresponded: all had handles with plain circular backplates (here replaced with more elaborate examples). Such parallels suggest a common origin for the group, possibly a single Portsmouth shop operated by an English-trained workman. This talented artisan may also have made the stylish Chippendale china tables long associated with Portsmouth (see Acc. No. 66.100). Both forms feature similar fretwork brackets and used braces to fasten the stretchers to the legs. Together, they demonstrate the presence of current English design in Portsmouth and help to prove that the town was a major center of pre-Revolutionary cabinetmaking. 

Brock Jobe

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.