In Focus

Pier table, 19th century, New York

The following essay is from the 1989 publication American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, by Charles L. Venable.

This pier table is one of the most elaborate examples of its type to survive. Its richly carved and gilded feet, blue marble, ormolu bases and capitals, mirrored glass, exotic woods, and stenciled ornamentation made this object extremely expensive. Such opulence reflected the wealth and status of its original owner. Although other pier tables of the period combine the same rich materials, few are as exuberant in overall design. At present, no identical table is known. However, two pier tables with identically carved feet and paired marble columns and pilasters are known. The upper molding and lower shelf on these tables are also eccentrically shaped, though not identical to the Bybee table. Unfortunately, none of these three tables have firm family histories.

It is known that elaborate pier tables were made in both Philadelphia and New York City. Compared to numerous tables from these cabinetmaking centers, the Bybee example most closely resembles those from New York. Philadelphia pier tables seldom use marble columns and almost always have wooden pilasters in the rear. Also, when stenciled or veneered decoration appears on the lower shelf, it is invariably in the form of a half circle on Philadelphia tables. New York tables, on the other hand, often have marble pilasters paired with columns and oblong stenciled motifs. Furthermore, the two tables that closely relate to the Bybee example feature stenciled decoration which is characteristic of New York work in its detail and exceptional execution.

Whoever made this table may have drawn inspiration for many of the decorative details from contemporary pattern books and architectural designs. The gilt "Center" on the lower shelf, for example, is similar to one published by Thomas Sheraton in 1794. Similarly, the front feet are closely related to printed designs for pilaster capitals. The use of highly figured marble further accentuates the architectural character of this table. This allusion to antiquity is also evident in the antique vert color of the small Ionic volutes upon which the table rests. Greenish colors of this type were used in the period to simulate antique bronze.

Excerpt from

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), 106-107.