Date: 1790 and early 1900s
When games such as checkers and backgammon entered the realm of acceptable pastime activities in the late 1700s, furniture for their play followed naturally. The need to accommodate two game boards and storage for game pieces gave rise to a common form of the gaming table: rectangular in shape and usually measuring at least thirty inches long and twenty inches wide. Many British gaming-table designs of the early 1800s show supports at both ends and a lengthwise stretcher below.
When games such as checkers and backgammon entered the realm of acceptable pastime activities in the late 1700s, furniture for their play followed naturally. The need to accommodate two game boards and storage for game pieces gave rise to a common form of the gaming table: rectangular in shape and usually measuring at least thirty inches long and twenty inches wide. Many British gaming-table designs of the early 1800s show supports at both ends and a lengthwise stretcher below. The game boards for playing checkers and backgammon are accessed by sliding wooden panels back and forth or removing them completely. The game board itself was always made of either intricately inlaid and dyed woods or leather with gilding.
When Julian Wood Glass Jr. purchased this table, in 1962, he thought it was an American gaming table dating to the early 1800s. The dealer, and subsequently Julian Wood Glass Jr., believed the table was an extraordinary rarity, as only one other American-made gaming table of this type is known to survive from the early 1800s. That table, strongly attributed to Boston cabinetmakers John and Thomas Seymour, is in a private collection today. Like Julian Wood Glass Jr.’s table, the Seymour-attributed table is on turned-and-reeded legs; however, it is oblong, and with regard to the game boards, it is more conventional in its construction, materials, and design.
Close examination of the Julian Wood Glass Jr. table and published sources shed light on the mystery of its origin. Parts of the base of this table appear to date to the late 1700s or early 1800s. The pattern of turning on the legs is that of a familiar Philadelphia-made turned leg. Philadelphia cabinetmakers of the 1790s and early 1800s made square, one-drawer tables that women used as inexpensive work (or sewing) tables. It is the handkerchief-opening top that is not original to the base. The top opens to reveal a glass playing surface with painting on the reverse sides (called eglomise). The square center has a checker and backgammon board and is flanked by four triangular decorative panels.
A 1910 catalogue of a London furniture-making firm called Norman and Stacey illustrates this identical top on four of their gaming tables, gaming tables that also have a similar square, one-drawer base like the Julian Wood Glass Jr. table. Norman and Stacey styled themselves as “art furnishers and decorators” and “artistic house furnishers”; in the early 1900s this meant they made furniture and outfitted interiors in any historical period that a client wished, such as the so-called Norman, Jacobean, Queen Anne, Chippendale, Georgian, Sheraton, and Regency styles and more. Influenced by an acute awareness of their history, other English furniture manufacturers also made reproductions in this manner. Their intention was to honor their past and to re-create the world of England’s cultural dominance.
This table does exactly that in an American context. Here, the cabinetmaker placed a visually interesting game-board top on the older American table. (In fact, the basic, one-drawer table probably survived because the game board gave it a new life.) Such gaming tables were popular in the American colonial revival period after the 1876 centennial. Perhaps Glass desired the table not for actual use but as an example of a sought-after form for display in his well-appointed library.
The dealer who sold this table to Julian Wood Glass Jr. was likely not purposefully selling him a fake but instead was unaware of the extent to which furniture makers in the early 1900s modified antique furniture. Glass admired this table daily in his library, where he gazed at it from his desk. The pleasure it brought him may have been about its supposed rarity, but he was also likely responding to the charm and imagination of its design.
Medium: Mahogany, white pine, and cherry
Dimensions: H: 29 1/2 x L: 20 in. (closed); H: 29 1/2 x L: 39 1/2 in. (open)
Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Collection: Julian Wood Glass Jr. Collection
Category: Furniture - American
Purchased July 31, 1962 from Joe Kindig, Jr.