Anyone for Cards…..?

Fashions in furniture changed constantly throughout the 18th century, and there are certain pieces of furniture that particularly demonstrated these changing trends. Card tables in particular are a very good example. All of the major 18th century design books include examples of card tables and the plenty of them survive to this day. We are fortunate to have a fine selection of card tables in our current collection and anyone interested can study the development of the style of the English card or gaming table from the Queen Anne period to the 1790s by assessing the tables in our gallery. We outline a few of them below.

During the early 18th century card tables all tended to be produced in one particular style with a flat back to sit flush against a wall and a more shaped decorative front frieze. However, there are several indicators of superior quality examples that a modern day collector or enthusiast would be advised to look for. The choice of fine veneers, decorative detail, exceptional colour and patina and fine proportions are all more obvious, but what might not be so familiar is the way the table is designed to open. Most tables from this period have a gate-leg action whereby one or both of the back legs rotate outwards to support the fold-over top when open. However, this presented problems when the table was used by three of more players at once as someone would be likely to find themselves having to sit at an awkward angle in order to avoid having a table leg in an uncomfortable position. This could be avoided by the use of a concertina action – the frame being itself hinged and moving in such a way that the four table legs remain in the corners of the table at all table, just extended out from their normal resting position, whether the top is open or closed. This ingenious mechanism was extremely expensive and time-consuming to make, and so accordingly fewer of these were made. We are fortunate enough to have two examples in our current collection.

The first example, a Queen Anne table made of burr yew and walnut, has beautifully restrained pad feet and relies on it exceptional veneers, colour and patina for most of its decorative allure. It has the perfect mellow colour that any collector would hope for in a piece of this age and features such as the burr yew veneer, the candles stands and counter trays inside as well as the hidden oak card drawer are all additional signs of an exceptional piece.

The second table, from a similar period, introduces additional carving to the knees and more elaborate feet. The burr walnut veneers on the top are particularly wonderful and the legs have a slightly curved cabriole profile to them. The proportions are extremely fine and the table stands well and boldly.

Both tables share the same basic form but the overall effect is quite different and we are pleased to be able to offer our client the chance to compare the two pieces side by side.

Moving on to about 1730, we have a card table made of mahogany that is something of a transition piece. An early use of mahogany, it has plenty in common in its restrained form with the earlier walnut pieces but is also of particularly rare and desirable small size. The extended rounded corners of the earlier pieces have been abandoned, leading to a more obviously rectangular outline. The maker of this table has again chosen wood of exceptional quality throughout and the veneers are particularly beautiful. The table top has re-entrant corners – a very attractive decorative feature and a sign of superior quality. There are adraw

The maker of this table has again chosen wood of exceptional quality throughout and the veneers are particularly beautiful. The table top has re-entrant corners-a very attractive decorative feature and a sign of superior quality. There are drawers to each side of the table and this is another rare feature.

By the late 18th century, card tables had largely settled into one of two forms (with exceptions of course!): the D-shaped design or the demi-lune (semi-circular or ‘half-moon’ in shape). Both of these have been very sought after as they are easy to use in decorative interior schemes throughout the ages, and pairs are extremely desirable. We have a fine pair of D-shaped mahogany card table of lovely colour with satinwood cross-banding and highly figured veneers throughout.

The tables are particularly useful in modern interiors that are perhaps generally more restricted in size that the palatial 18th century country houses for which they were initially made. Flanking doorways or fireplaces they are visually very effective. They can also be set back to back to create a feature in the middle of a room, whilst at the same time being easy to move around. They also offer substantial strength – don’t let the slim delicate proportions fool you, these beautifully designed tables are sturdy and very capable of supporting a good deal of weight, so make them ideal lamp tables or to be used for displaying bronzes or other decorative objects.

Other late 18th century card table designs are much more unusual and can often be more elaborate. We have in our current collection another extraordinary pair of tables – made in England in the French taste, possibly by Royal Cabinet Maker John Cobb. With wonderful veneers and outstanding ormolu mounts to the knees and feet, these tables are known to have come from one of England’s greatest houses – Stowe – (now the site of the famous school) and were presumably supplied there in around 1770.

The tables are veneered in kingwood – an extremely unusual, expensive and rare timber in English furniture making terms but more usually used in France at the time. Two paintings by Johann Zoffany show virtually identical card tables in use, by in one the Dutton Family, and in the other wonderfully King George III himself. These tables represents the very highest level of taste and design of the period, in terms of luxury and craftsmanship, and would have only been available to the wealthiest and most discerning clientele of the time. They are true masterpieces of English furniture making and would enhance even the grandest of interior schemes or finest of collections, as they did at Stowe all those years ago.

Another very unusual card table in our collection is this fine Hepplewhite period example, dating to around 1780. This table combines neo-classical design elements including paterae, fluted columns, beaded collars and carved acanthus leaf detailing with a softly serpentine outline and again magnificent colour and veneers. The particularly fine colour of the top is framed and enhanced by the wide satinwood cross-banding.


As ever, if we can of assistance in any way then please do get in touch and we hope that you may wish to add a card table, or two, to your collection. They are both wonderfully practical and decorative pieces that will give you much enjoyment over the years – and who knows, you might even use them to play cards?!

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