Tea Table, 18th century, Hartford, Connecticut
During the late 17th century, the drinking of tea became fashionable in the British Empire. In response to this new practice, utensils such as teapots, teaspoons, strainers, tea caddies, and teacups were invented or introduced from the Near East. Tea tables with pronounced upper rims were developed about 1700 to support these various devices and to prevent accidents. By the time this particular table was made, tea drinking had evolved into an elaborate ceremony in which manners, wit, and equipage were used to test one's gentility and wealth.
This table may represent one of the earliest forms of tea table made in colonial America. The repetition of a concave-convex molding profile in the skirt divides the upper section in half. This visual division recalls earlier tea tables which consisted of a removable tray and a frame upon which to set it. The manner in which the skirt is built from a molded exterior section which is applied over an inner rail is reminiscent of early 18th-century furniture, which often featured surfaces covered with applied moldings and veneers.
Like the date of this table, its origin is also difficult to ascertain. Tea tables with molded upper sections and legs which curve only slightly are known from various places in New England. However, several factors suggest that the table seen here was made in Connecticut. First, the only identical table known originally belonged to an early 20th-century collector in Hartford. Secondly, a group of rectangular tea tables from the Connecticut River Valley exists which have similar proportions, legs, pad feet, and top rims. And finally, the use of cherry for expensive pieces of furniture was common in Connecticut.
Charles L. Venable, American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, published in association with the Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), 15.