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Work Table

Maxwell, Thomas J
Place Made:
Elbert County Georgia United States of America
Date Made:
birch –walnut –light wood inlay –yellow pine
HOA: 29 1/4″;
WOA: 21″;
DOA: 16 5/8″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Inlaid table, solid-board top with light wood double-line stringing on all four edges and is screwed to the apron from the underside. The apron, joined to the tapered legs by mortise, tenoned, and pegged construction, has a single line inlay in the form of horizontal ovals on the sides and the back. Vertical ovals in the same line inlay flank the drawers. The 1 1/4″ thick drawer front appears to have an applied molding on its edges. The molding is, in fact, formed from the solid drawer front. In the center of the drawer a large walnut diamond is inlaid; above it a second inlaid walnut diamond acting as an escutcheon fronts an original lock. On either side of the center diamond are light wood diamonds and all this framed by line inlay. The brass knob is original. The drawer front is joined by half-dovetails top and bottom with one full one between. The drawer back is joined by three full dovetails. The drawer bottom is beveled, slipped into grooves in the sides, and nailed across the back. Runners tenon into the thick front and back aprons. The outer sides of the legs repeat the oval tops of the line inlay flanking the drawer but taper to an inlaid cuff that surrounds the legs. Underneath the table, one leg retains blocking that has notched-V construction. Original drawer pulls and iron lock, original blocking and drawer supports.

One drawer side is inscribed in pencil “John Tenant” for John Tenant or Tennent (1812-1884), who was born in Abbeville, South Carolina but listed in the 1850 Franklin County, Georgia, census and the 1860 and 1870 Elbert County, Georgia, census before he moved and died in Brown County, Texas.

MAKER: Like many artisans in the Georgia Piedmont, Thomas J. Maxwell (1804-1869) was both a craftsman and a farmer. In 1953, Maxwell’s granddaughter Quillie Norman recalled, “Grandpa was a cabinetmaker as well as a farmer. When his children married there was a reserve of things he had made… It must have been that he considered it part of his duty to have some of his handiwork in their hope-chests. Mother had a chest, five chairs, a wardrobe, a small table, and a rolling pin.” This piece descended in the family and is probably the small table referred to by the maker’s granddaughter.

When Thomas J. Maxwell died in 1869 his estate contained $25 worth of mechanical and shop tools and $2 worth of birch plank. Birch was often used as a primary wood in Georgia Piedmont cabinetmaking, but is seldom seen elsewhere in the American South. Maxwell may have learned cabinetmaking from his grandfather Jacob Higginbotham (1751-1836), whose Elbert County estate sale, dated 5 May 1836, listed one lot of carpenter’s tools; a turning lathe; chisels and gouges; a square; jointer, jack, smoothing, and fore planes; and walnut plank.

HISTORY: The table was probably made for Ann Banks Adams (1814-1886) around the time of her marriage to cabinetmaker Thomas J. Maxwell (1804-1869) in Elbert County, Georgia, on 31 May 1831. It descended to their daughter Julia Ann (Maxwell) Norman (1845-1921), then to her daugher Emma Frances Norman (1882-1981). It was then purchased at auction by Mr. & Mrs. William W. Griffin from the estate of Emma Frances Norman in Hart County, Georgia, in September 1981. It was illustrated in Griffin’s article for the March 1984 issue of The Magazine Antiques, “Nineteenth-century Georgia and its plain-style furniture” and in the book Neat Pieces: The Plain Style Furniture of 19th Century Georgia. The table was acquired by MESDA from the Griffin estate sale at Brunk Auctions on 30 May 2009.
Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund