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Friday, November 6, 2009

Expanding Dining Room Table with Joseph Fitter Screw Expander (ca. 1870)


This dining room table is English and was built sometime after 1864 and perhaps as late as 1890. By looking at similar pieces I would put it around 1870. The table has a distinctive feature called a screw expander. A screw expander is a device which is mounted under the table which expands the table to accommodate additional leaves. The screw expander consists of a long screw which is inserted into a long tube nut. The screw is turned by means of a crank which is attached to the end of the screw through the apron of the table. By turning the crank counter clockwise the table expands. Turning it clockwise tightens the table. The table is on large casters to allow it to move freely.
Prior to this Victorian innovation leaves for tables were clipped into place or held by boards that were slid into place on the underside of the table. After that came the wooden telescoping runner system which are still seen today on most expanding tables. The use of the screw expander allows one person to easily open and close the table. All other systems usually need a person at either end to add leaves to the table.
The earliest mention in literature of the screw expander I have found is in a book first published in 1853 entitled The Cabinet- Maker's Assistant originally published by Blackie and Son publishing (now available from Dover press). It has an entire page dedicated to this mechanism and shows drawings of the basic joinery of this table.
A man by the name of Samuel Hawkins applied for a patent on a screw expander (English Patent# 1430) on June 6th, 1861. Presumably, Mr. Hawkins either died or retired because his business was taken over by young machinist named Joseph Fitter (b. 1842) in 1864. Based on an advertisement for these screw expanders it is presumed that Mr. Hawkin's went into business in 1846.
At any rate, Joseph Fitter operated a machinist shop where he produced screw expanders as well as screw expanders for piano stools and other applications at 210 Cheapside, Birmingham England by the name of Britannia Works.
I found several examples of tables using this device made from materials such as Oak, Mahogany, and Walnut. What is interesting about this table is that it is made from a variety of woods. The top surface of the table as well as three of the four apron surfaces appear to be made of Poplar. This is interesting to note because Poplar is an American wood traditionally used as a secondary wood in cabinets. The fourth apron surface (the one the crank goes through) is made of Pine. the legs of the table are made of Honduran Mahogany.
The entire table was stained to a Mahogany color and the stain had faded on the top surface (except the leaf which must have been stored). The finish on the table was scratched and was overall in bad shape so I decided to remove it and start from scratch. Above is a photo of the table as it came to me. The photos below are of the label bearing the name of Joseph Fitter and the table with the finish removed. The final photo is of an advertisement for Joseph Fitter screw expanders.
The label on the screw expander. A close up of the label. It reads " Joseph Fitter-Patent-Britiannia Works- Cheapside, Birmingham" The table with the finish removed (note the hole in the apron for the insertion of the crank). An advertisement (bottom half) for Joseph Fitter.

44 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. I have been checking out a few of your article stories and I must say pretty clever stuff. I will definitely bookmark your blog. Thank you very much.

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  3. I just book marked your blog on Digg and StumbleUpon.I enjoy reading your posting. thank you very much.

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  4. Hi,I have a table just like the one in the picture at the top of this page. I would like to find out more info about it and to get an idea how much it is worth. My email address is mattiel70@yahoo.com Thank you

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  5. Could you tell me what is inside a
    Joseph Fitter screw expander

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  6. Thank you for your post. We just had a similar table refinished and found the same symbol on the screw. Nice to know the history. The man who refinished the table tried to tell me it was probably made in the US because of how heavy it is. Looking forward to sharing the history with him. He loved working on this table.

    I wish we still had the crank.

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  7. Hello! We have a Britannia works table a little elaborate the the one shown.The table can expand to seat about 12 people would you happen to know how much it might be worth. Could you contact us on 01730 823 481 and ask for either mark or Kay.

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  8. we have a table exactly the same as the one at the top of the page and would like to know where and by who it was made and if posible what it is worth

    daveandbella@btinternet.com

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  9. We are part (Moovin' and Groovin') of The Foundation For the Homeless in Austin, TX. We have an identical table that was donated to us, along with six matching hand carved Oak chairs that we cannot definitely connect with the table, but they are of similar age and each chair has wheels on the front legs (only) that match the table.
    Unfortunately, the 28" long screw is broken, and doubt that it can be welded. Any suggestions for a replacement screw??

    Thanks,

    Jack Fredine jackfredine@yahoo.com

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  10. My husband has just decided that our table needed an overhaul! It is in bits! However, he called me in to show me that the screw expander has an inscription on it and I read it to be that of Joseph Fitter! I quickly googled it and found your site! The table top we think is some kind of pine as it is light in colour and soft but without any knots. It has been stripped at some stage and put together rather badly! Thank you for your blog! We appreciate our table even more now - in Melbourne, Australia!

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  11. Our lovely mahogany table was purchased from a country house sale, by my late in-laws, in the early 1950s, for about £30. It has three extra leaves, small, medium and large. We had the mechanism restored sympathetically for us about 15 years ago, by an excellent cabinet maker - David Haddock from Dorset, UK - as the runners had worn and the table dipped when fully extended. The screw expander is identical to the one shown on this blog. It seats 14 comfortably and we used it for an excellent dinner last night with friends to celebrate the New Year. Long live the memory of Joseph Fitter!

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  12. To Anonymous of Oct 3, 2011 - - I have a crank. If you are still in need, email me: jackfredine@yahoo.com

    To anyone: My table has 24" ends, and one 20" leaf. My (broken) screw expander was 27" long, plus 3" of connecting steel at the crank end. I see no way that this expander will adapt to accommodate the leaf, without modifying the block under the non-crank end of the table - - which has never been moved. Am I missing something here???

    To L. Clapp: Just how long is your screw expander, from crank end to the other end?

    jackfredine@yahoo.com

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  13. Hi Thank you for your blog it confirms some of what we thought. My great grandparents brought the table & chairs for my grandparents wedding. Apparently they had it brought out from England to New Zealand (we cannot confirm this. It is made of English Oak and fully extends to 70" but has square tappered legs. I had thought of selling it as it needs to be restored again but will keep it I think. We thought the table was made early 1900s. Do you know how long these expanders were used? Apart from having the screws replace the expander still works. Debra

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  14. Hi
    I have a 1920 oak crank table and lost the crank. The crank used to remove the leaf and reduce the size of the table. Know of any replace I could use?
    Thanks
    Judy

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    Replies
    1. Probably a bed bolt wrench would be your best bet!

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    2. Thanks will start the search.

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  15. what is the value of table b4 restor....

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  16. thank you for this fascinating blog I have just finished cleaning the embossed brass name plate on the bracket of our crank table which revealed the info re Joseph Fitter. I then found this page which is really interesting. Our table is in very good condition and is regularly used at full extent.

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  17. I have one of these beautiful tables. My parents were gifted it in Armidale, Australia in the early 80's. Then we took it to Sydney, Hobart and now it is with me in Wollongong in very good condition but without wheels. If anyone knows how I can get the original wheels I'd appreciate to hear from you! My email: mmadeleinekelly@hotmail.com (that's a deliberate m)

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  18. Hi I have one of these tables in mahogany it belonged to my gran, it has o e leaf. The legs are tapered. Have you got any idea how old it might be and also its value it is in good condition but I need to sell it. Many Thanks Glynis

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  19. I have this exact table but it is missing the crank. Would you have suggestions where I could locate one? jpatterson0806@yahoo.com

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  20. I have an Oak table, virtually identical to your picture, with the Joseph Fitter mechanism, and logo. I still have the crank, as well as the 6 additional leaves that go with the table, extending it to seat about 22/24 people. Any idea of its date, history and value?
    Thanks wendydoyle2010@hotmail.co.uk

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  21. nice and informative discussion thanks for sharing.online beds company UK

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  22. I have this exact table and was hoping you could help me figure out how to sell it and what you feel the value of it is. Thanks!

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  23. I have a dining table with Joseph Fitter mechanism. It is missing the hand crank and was wondering where to find a replacement. Also how to find the value of these tables.
    mkrone52@sbcglobal.net

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  24. I also have a handsome crafted lion head leg extending mahogany dining table and chairs for 8 persons with Joseph Fitter mechanism. Another plate label attached is the name of supplier Druce & Co. Baker Street, London. Does anyone has its estimate value? Thank you. nijnui@ksc.th.com

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  25. ANTIQUE ENGLISH 6ft. Queen Anne DINING TABLE w/ Hand Crank cc 1870's.
    Finsh Excellent Condition. Crank Good Condition
    "Joseph Fitter-Patent Works-Cheapside, Birmingham
    5 Chairs Very Good Condition. EATONTON, GA. BEST OFFER!!!!

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  26. ANTIQUE QUEEN ANNE MAHOGANY DRAW LEAF PUB STYLE DINING TABLE.
    ENGLISH "Very Good condition" No scratches on top...Pictures available
    cc 1920's
    Eatonton, Ga. 706-485-3747 BEST OFFER

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  27. I have just seen a similar table to this which I am considering buying in the UK, unfortunately the central leafs are missing, do you where I might be able to find one or two? durga_siva@hotmail.com

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  28. How much would one of these tables sell for in top condition? please reply to fyadw@hotmail.com

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  29. I just purchased an oak table with a Joseph Fitter Label and expander crank. It needs refinished any suggestions or recommendations. It is a beautiful piece and I'm very happy with it. I know nothing about the history of the piece other than information I found regarding his work in your blog.

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  30. I work for a charity on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, where I prepare used, donated furniture for re-sale. Once in a while, we come across a piece of furniture that has value outside our market here on the island. Several comments on this post make me believe that someone might be interested in our Joseph Fitter table. I have stripped but not refinished yet. I may not be as good a re-finisher as the piece deserves. When it is done, we will likely offer it for sale for under £300. Before I continue to work on it, I am trying to find out if there is anyone who might want it purchase and collect it in its current condition, for more than £300. Please contact me at dcaskie@greennet.net if you are interested, and I will follow-up with photos and dimensions.

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  31. I work for a charity on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, where I prepare used, donated furniture for re-sale. Once in a while, we come across a piece of furniture that has value outside our market here on the island. Several comments on this post make me believe that someone might be interested in our Joseph Fitter table. I have stripped but not refinished yet. I may not be as good a re-finisher as the piece deserves. When it is done, we will likely offer it for sale for under £300. Before I continue to work on it, I am trying to find out if there is anyone who might want it purchase and collect it in its current condition, for more than £300. Please contact me at dcaskie@greennet.net if you are interested, and I will follow-up with photos and dimensions.

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  32. I have just repaired a table that looks the same as your photo, except that it only has one leaf and is only 24" high without the wheels. Could this be a Tea Table? This one is in South Africa!

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  33. Thank you for sharing this information. I love the design.
    Dining Room Furniture

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  34. I have a dining room table and credenza that are more ornate that what you show and I would like to find out if you know of anyone in Florida that could give me an idea of their worth. I can take pictures if necessary.

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  35. I have a table with the Joseph Fitter crank as well. However, mine says Banacre, Birmingham rather than Cheapside, Birmingham and mine is also a drop leaf. It is 30 inches high and has two leaves. I have seen a lot of these that are draw leaf but have yet to find a picture of one that is also a drop leaf. If anyone knows of this type please contact me at td37@hotmail.com. Also, the legs on mine are very similar to the ones on this table but are slightly more tapered. More like a Victorian style.

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  36. Hi have just been given one of these tables because of an iminent house move. Looked underneath and read the brass cast nut and then found this.
    Very interesting, this needs some restoration and would like to know a basic value ? centre leaf missing unfortunately

    John Morgan Lancashire UK

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  37. email john1000@tiscali.co.uk

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  38. Any ideas what chairs would have been used with this type of table. I have one and it is being restored here in spain and i would love to find some chairs to maych it.

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  39. I have a 14 foot Joesph Fitter table for sale it has 2 fixed and 3 seperste leaves, it's been in the garage for a few years so needs a bit of tlc . Do you buy or just refurbish ?
    Mick.jones@eschmann.co.uk

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  40. Good afternoon,
    I have a Victorian Expanding Dining Room Table with Joseph Fitter Screw Expander (marked "Joseph Fitter Patent, Britania Works Sheaps II, Birmingham", 1860-1880) in a very good condition! Sizes: W -105 cm, L - 180 cm.
    And a snooker table which stands on the table that I described above, with accessories (absolutely decent condition. I play pool everyday.). I can't find a marker on the snooker table, its unbelievable heavy to take it off the dinner table (3-4 men required). I think, its the same age as a dinner table. Sizes: W -108 cm, L - 225 cm.

    Could you please give me at least an approximate idea how much these both items worth? And where could I sell them? I am moving from Scotland to England in a few weeks and I need to do something with this antique furniture!

    PLEASE HELP ME! MY EMAIL: UVPOLO@GMAIL.COM

    Kindest regards,
    Michael

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  41. This is my dining room table! I bought it about 35 years ago at an antique store in Grapevine Texas that imported their antique furniture from England. About 15 years ago the crank that expands the table turned up missing. Is there any way to replace it?

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  42. I have a Joseph Fitter crank table in beautiful condition that seats 8.
    How does one get it valued without being taken for a ride?

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