Tea Table, rectangular

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  • Attributed to: Anthony Hay
  • Williamsburg, Virginia
  • 1760-1775
  • Mahogany
  • 1979-302

Few pieces of documented Williamsburg furniture are known, although a number can be firmly attributed to the town by other means. This mahogany tea table and a group of strongly related tables and chairs are not inscribed, labeled, or recorded in account books, yet there is little doubt that they were produced in Williamsburg.

The objects are united by physical characteristics that include the use of well-formed cabriole legs with broad, flattened knees and delicate ankles. Chairs and tables alike stand on unusual feet that consist of large, relatively thin, round pads raised on high disks of an inverted trumpet shape. The outer corners of the stiles at the tops of the legs on the tables are gently rounded, and each rail-to-leg joint is double-pinned. Most of the group have histories of ownership in or near Williamsburg. Examples include the present tea table, which was purchased by a Williamsburg family at the sale of Governor Dunmore's household furnishings after he fled the Palace in 1775. A closely related sideboard table made of black walnut and yellow pine has a history either in York County, adjacent to Williamsburg, or the contiguous county of Elizabeth City (acc. 1953-438). A second, virtually identical, sideboard table descended in the Christian family of Williamsburg (acc. 1986-103), and an easy chair was owned by the Cole and Geddy families of the same town (acc. 1984-372).

The unusual foot with the trumpet-shaped disk found on all of the objects in the group was also discovered on an unfinished easy chair leg excavated from the site of a Williamsburg cabinet shop during archeological investigations in 1960 (6099E.R.748B-28.D). Apparently discarded during production, the leg was retrieved from a group of artifacts dating to the third quarter of the eighteenth century. Its association with the shop site and unfinished state argue convincingly that surviving objects with the same distinctive foot were produced by artisans at that location.

Situated above a stream bed whose wet soil preserved numerous wooden artifacts discarded there, the shop was occupied successively by cabinetmakers Anthony Hay (d. 1770), Benjamin Bucktrout (d. 1813), and Edmund Dickinson (d. 1778) over about twenty years. Hay purchased the Nicholson Street property in 1756 and remained there until he left the cabinet trade in 1767 when Bucktrout became master of the shop. Three years later, Bucktrout moved to another location in town where he worked for many years, and Dickinson took over the operation of the Nicholson Street shop. Dickinson stayed there until 1776 when military duty called him away and he closed the business. Significantly, Bucktrout and Dickinson were both employed by Hay, probably as journeymen, at various times during the 1760s. The overlapping tenures of these three master cabinetmakers and their employees make it nearly impossible to discern the work of one from that of the others. Even so, it is clear that Hay, Bucktrout, or Dickinson produced this table and a host of related goods.

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