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Sewing Table

Walker, Robert __Possibly by
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany –holly –ebony –yellow pine –white pine
HOA: 28 3/4; WOA: 18; DOA: 12 1/2
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Oval shaped sewing table with lid; square tapering legs; top and sides decorated with oval inlaid panels. Leg stiles decorated with elongated and outlined panel; string inlaid square with lunetted corners and double stringed oval inside inset; brass key escutcheon.

STYLE: The oval panel, usually thought of as a Baltimore characteristic, was also used extensively in Charleston. Baltimore work usually has a panel of one grained veneer while its frame would have been contrasting grains mitered at the corners.

WOODS: Mahogany and mahogany veneer with holly and ebony inlay, yellow pine secondary wood. Yellow pine laminated box sides, with white pine bottom.

MAKER: This sewing table could possibly be a product from the shop of Charleston cabinetmaker Robert Walker. This attribution is based on its inlay decoration that compares favorably to Walker’s other work coupled with the Scottish origins of both Walker and the McGillivray family.

Walker’s copy of THE LONDON BOOK OF PRICES (MESDA Acc. 4297) is endorsed to indicate he was in Cupar, Scotland (across from Edinburgh) in 1791-1793; he was in New York from October 1793-November 1795. The MESDA files place Walker in NYC by October 1793 and in Charleston by October or November 1795. Walker became a citizen of the United States in 1799. He is first listed as a cabinetmaker at 57 Broad Street in 1801; he was at 39 Church Street the same year. Also in that year he was admitted into the St. Andrews Society. In 1810 he was listed at 19 Elliott Street and at 53 Church Street from 1812, the year he married Margaret Murdoch. He was, for a time, partners with Charles Watts.

Among his most interesting advertisements, one in 1805 lists “Ladies Work” tables; one in 1810 lists (among materials for sale) “Mahogany boards, Plank Veneers, Sattin Wood, Holly, best Dublin Glue….” Walker sold various woods, cabinet hardware, etc. throughout his life in Charleston.

The original owner of this work table was probably Ann (Hinckley) McGillivray (1760-1812) or her daughter, Mary (McGillivray) Geyer (1778-1841), who both lived at 10 Atlantic Street in Charleston. The house was built around 1760 by their ancestor, sailmaker and merchant William Hinckley, and remained in the family for 150 years. In 1780 Hinckley bequeathed the house to his daughter, Anne McGillivray, and in the early nineteenth century, the house belonged to her daughter, Mary Geyer, wife of Charleston merchant John Geyer (d. 1825). With no children of her own, Mary bequeathed the house and its contents to the family of her brother, Alexander Hinckley McGillivray (1781-1832). Mary Geyer’s inventory lists “1 Lot & Dwelling House in Atlantic Street” valued at $2500 and “3 Work Tables $6.” Mary Geyer and several members of her family are buried at St. Philip’s Church in Charleston.

For another object with a McGillivray and Geyer family history, see the Charleston card table (Acc. 3266).

Credit Line:
Gift of Frank L. Horton