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Thursday, September 16, 2010

American Chippendale Mahogany Candlestand (ca. 1760-1780)

Probably my favorite style of furniture is the tripod table. Tripod bases were used in tea tables, candlestands, fire screens, and sometimes in dumbwaiters during the 18th and early 19th century. The idea of the tripod base is that on an uneven floor it can always find solid footing whereas a table with four legs will wobble. This is especially important when dealing with flames from a candle or lamp, or with tea.

The first use of this form was seen in Holland in the mid-17th century and towards the end of that century examples of tables using a tripod base were found in England. As the 18th century progressed this form came into real fashion in England and by the mid-18th century was abundant with the rise of the upper middle class. The use of the tea table also corresponded with the rise of tea drinking in England and all of the ceremony that accompanied it. In America, which followed the trends of England and Europe, many fine examples of all of the aforementioned tables etc. could be found.

There are several variations on this general form. One of which is the tilt top table. The idea behind this is that the top is hinged by its battons to the pedistal so that the top can flip up for easy storage. The top is held down by a brass "snap" or catch or by a wooden turn buckle in cruder examples. In fact, one name for these tables in the 18th century was a snap table. One further innovation was the incorporation of a "birdcage" which was a section of the table between the pedestal and the top which allowed the top to spin like a Lazy Susan. This allowed women to spin the top during tea rather than get up to serve tea which would be difficult with the large dresses that were the fashion of the time.

I recently received a candlestand from a customer who wanted it to be restored. The candlestand came from a collection of furniture owned by a Dr. C Ray Franklin who was a Kentucky born descendant of Benjamin Franklin. Dr. Franklin was a collector of fine furniture in the early to mid 20th century and acquired an impressive collection f 18th and 19th century American furniture. This collection was auctioned off on Saturday, October 13th, 1984 by Christie's auction house in New York City. A hardbound auction book was published and the table we are concerned with was included in the book. Here is the cover of the book:


The table is described as coming from Massachusetts and is dated between 1760 and 1780. below is the photo of the table from the book followed by the description.

The description makes reference to repairs to the dish top and to the pedestal. All of these repairs were still visible when I received the table. The repairs to the base were quite old and involved several patches. The repair to the dish top was more recent and very poorly executed. I was hired to remedy this problem and to restore the piece while being sensitive to its history. Below is a photo of the table as it came to me.
Here is a close up of the repair to the dish top. It is called a "dish top" because it was turned on a lathe and the perimeter was turned into a decorative molding while the center was dished out to a lower depth.
Luckily, The repair was reversible and with a little effort I was able to separate the repaired pieces from the top. I then cleaned the old glue off of the pieces and fit them to the top so that the pieces lay flush with the top. Once this was accomplished the pieces were glued in place.Below is a photo of the pieces being glued in place.
While the pedestal had been repaired, the repairs were old and the glue had lost it's bond. The damage was quite significant and I wanted to add strength to the joinery without the use of modern glues(which would have been inappropriate). The answer was to create a "Spider" which is a metal piece that is formed to the underside of the pedestal which connects the pedestal to the legs. This is an authentic repair and Spiders can be found on many 18th century tripod tables. I have detailed the process of the fabrication and application of the spider as well as the repairs to the base below.

Here is a photo of the base of the pedestal and the damaged areas.
Here are the two legs that were removed in the first photo.
the first step was to clean the old glue and glue the base back together. This can be seen in the following two photos.

After the glue had dried, I fashioned a metal spider out of sheet metal that had some rusty spots. First the metal was cut to shape.
The metal was then darkened using Selenious Acid.
The last step was to fasten the spider to the legs using screws I had some nice old screws that fit the bill, so I used them.
This last photo shows the table dismantled during the restoration of the finish. I will post some photos of the completed piece in a few days.

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