Chapter II

The Progression of English Oak Tables.

T the outset of each of the preceding chapters the plan has been adopted of commencing with a definition of the terms which it is proposed to use, with the idea of demonstrating what is included and also what is excluded. Tables, far from offering an exception to this practice, require exact definition, if we are to exclude such articles as chests and similar articles, which, although in no sense of the word tables, were frequently used as such. The name " table," in fact, implies both an article of furniture and a function (i.e. a piece which serves as a table, but is not really one). Strict definition, therefore, becomes not only desirable, but also necessary, if confusion is to be avoided. Some overlapping of types, in the case of cupboard-tables, or chair-tables, is inevitable, and it is often a nice point to determine whether such pieces should be referred to as chests, cupboards or chairs. The limitation, thus implied, can be expressed in the clearest manner, by a recital of the types which shall include all the various descriptions of tables, to be illustrated in this chapter. These may be roughly summarised as follows :—

  • 1) Trestle tables, composed of tops, supported at their ends, or if of great length, at intervals, by vertical boards, or constructions of boards, placed at right angles to the length of the top, e.g. Fig. 125.
  • 2) Trestle tables, where the supports are at the centre of each end, but with stretcher rails fixed parallel to the length of the top, generally on its central line, the trestles having cross-pieces, on the floor level, to give stability-, e.g. Fig. 127.
  • 3) Tables with turned or square legs tenoned into framings at the corners, with a top of some overhang. The number of these legs is dictated by the size of the table, e.g. Fig. 132.
  • 4) Tables of variable length, or with extending tops. This type includes the draw-table, where an additional section can be pulled out at each end from under the main top, to increase its length, e.g. Fig. 129, or those with hinged fall-down or fold-over flaps such as the gate-leg or the folding card table.
  • 5) Tables with central turned legs, usually of heavy type, placed centrally- under the top on its length, supported on cross-pieces on the floor. (Genuine tables of this kind are excessively rare.)

(6) Tables, usually small, which are supported on a central pillar, with either a heavy base, or a tripod. These are usually, if not entirely, of the later eighteenth century, and will not concern us in this chapter.

There are many examples which are merely variations of the foregoing, such as the triangular table with three legs, the hexagonal with six, etc., and also the hybrid forms of the chair-table or bench-table, with a hinged top to form a table when down and a back to the chair or bench when raised. This latter type will be found in the chapter devoted to chairs. Distinction of purpose, e.g. dining, writing, tea, card or side tables, are ignored here as they have nothing to do with the present definition.

It is also obvious, in this book, that we are dealing only with the table made from wood, other materials, such as cane, iron, stone or marble do not concern us at present, although it may be noted, en passant, that in the seventeenth century some tables were made of silver.

That tables, in any form, are of great antiquity in England, is doubtful. If they were known in the thirteenth century, for example, it is remarkable that none have survived, as other thirteenth-century woodwork has, of a character much more frail

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