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Tea Table

Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
HOA: 28 1/2; DIA: 31 1/4
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Tea table: Round top with scalloped and gadrooned edge; single board top; elongated vasiform pedestal topped by a single block, not permitting the top to rotate; three ogee curved legs with carved acanthus leaves on knees and terminating in ball and claw feet; the same acanthus leaves run upward on the vasiform pedestal, turning outward at the top.

CONSTRUCTION: Top joinery: One piece. Pedestal/hinge block joinery: Pedestal square-tenoned through hinge block and triple-wedged.

STYLE: The carving has details of both design and execution comparable to New York carving of the mid-eighteenth century. The center vein urn leafage is cross-shaded with a gouge. Also aligned stylistically, are portions of the work on the table that can be documented to Ezra Waite, the principal carver of the Miles Brewton house. The flow of the leaf veining of the pedestal urn on the table is similar. The most unusual feature of the table, and one that seems to be unique on American tea tables, is the fully gadrooned edge that surrounds the scalloping of the top. Its single-board top does not appear to be a faceplate turning but instead was sunk with hand tools, which is surprising given that this piece was made in what must have been a large shop. The notching at the base of the pedestal and on the lower fillets of the legs comprises a triple demilune profile, but this detail is common on Charleston tables and occurs with frequency on British tea tables. There is a tall plinth above the legs, and the torus, here carved with an egg-and-dart motif elaborated with leaves flanking the eggs, has a broad quarter-round profile. Above it is a narrow ogee that transitions from the torus to the scotia and causes the scotia to be somewhat abbreviated in height when compared with the classical form of architectural columns that provided the design for many elements of table turnings. The columnar turning above the vase rises to a well-defined neck turning, and the capital turning above that mirrors the torus at the base, although it is not carved.

GROUP: The attribution of this tea table to Charleston cabinetmakers is based on its history, its construction features, the elongated vase-form of its pedestal, and its carving. Entirely of mahogany, the two underneath battens tilt the top on a single block, not a bird cage as is often seen in the North. The elongated vase turning is quite often seen on other Charleston tea tables. The low carving on this example is seen on other tea tables, bedsteads, and easy chairs. The gadrooning of the molded and scalloped “pie crust” edge of the top make this table an exceptional example. The acanthus-leaf carving on the leg terminates in a bell flower, the latter of which is not known on any other example. The table exhibits a baluster-form turning style that relates to roughly a half dozen other Charleston tea tables made between 1755 and 1775, and carving that relates to other tea tables as well as to a bedstead in the Winterthur Collection, an easy chair at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and to the Masonic master’s chair and the Baker family easy chair in MESDA’s Collection.

CONDITION: Minor loss of urn carving, twelve woodscrews added to cleats, hinge block replaced (original spacing of cleats was 5-1/4 inches center-to-center, indicating a 4-1/2 inch hinge block; present cleat spacing is 6-3/4 inches); top catch and keeper replaced.

This tea table descended in the Holmes family of Charleston. Its original owner was probably Rebecca (Bee) Holmes Edwards (1741-1821), a wealthy plantress and the widow of two of Charleston’s richest colonial merchants. Rebecca Bee married her first husband Isaac Holmes on May 8, 1759, and this is probably the “1 Mahogany Tea table” with a japan waiter and tea chest valued at 18 pounds in Holmes’s 1764 estate inventory. On January 3, 1774, Rebecca married for a second time Charleston merchant John Edwards (1731-1781). Rebecca and her family were among the most style conscious consumers in colonial Charleston, patronizing the artists Jeremiah Theus, John Wollaston, and John Singleton Copley for portraits. In 1770, John Edwards built a fashionable town house on lower Meeting Street filled with elaborate rococo carving.

In 1785, Timothy Ford visited Mrs. Edwards at her Washington Plantation on the Cooper River in St. Johns Berkley Parish. He recorded in his diary, “We arrived in the evening at Mrs. Edwards’s plantation to whom I had an introduction & whose easy manners, affability & politeness enable me to make a speedy acquaintance . . . The garden is spacious, & animated by the taste & ingenuity of Mrs. Edwards, exhibits its various walks, flowers, vegetables, trees & springs in the most pleasing view. The plantation produces everything in the greatest perfection mediatley under her direction, but immediatly under that of an overseer and driver.” The 1800 census lists Rebecca (Bee) Holmes Edwards with 160 slaves at Washington Plantation. The plantation was inherited by her son, John Bee Holmes (1760-1827), and her grandson, Dr. Henry McCall Holmes (1790-1854). The tea table can be positively traced to Dr. Holmes and his wife, Eliza Ford Gibbes, who sold Washington Plantation around 1860, after her husband’s death. Their daugher Emma recorded in her diary how the tea table survived the Charleston fire of 1861, noting that among the objects saved from their house in town was “the antique mahogany round table, about a century old.”

Credit Line:
Purchase Fund