An important survival of Philadelphia's early Rococo, this marble sideboard table was part of the furnishings of Cliveden, the Germantown country seat of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew (1722-1810). The vocabulary and execution of the table's rail and knee carving suggest the hand of Samuel Harding (d. 1758), Philadelphia's most important carver working in the 1740s and early 1750s, or an unidentified carver influenced by the Harding's creations. Distinctive handling of the motifs, including the series of gouged striations relieving the tops of the acanthus leaves, are seen on a set of side chairs and an easy chair undoubtedly carved by the same hand. The side chairs also display similarly punched grounds and closely related shells, their bases' embellished with additional striated gouging and three-leaf clusters like those on the shell of the table offered here. Furthermore, all these forms have ball-and-claw feet in the same recognizable style with relatively large ball feet and attenuated talons (for the easy chair, see Sotheby's New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland, 19 January 2002, lot 318; for the side chairs, see Joseph Downs, American Furniture: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods (New York, 1952), no. 115; Joseph Kindig, The Philadelphia Chair, 1685-1785 (York, Pennsylvania, 1978), no. 27; Sotheby's New York, 17 and 19 January 1997, lot 921; another chair from the set is owned by the Dietrich Americana Foundation and on loan to the Baltimore Museum of Art). Other ornament rendered by this carver may appear on two tea tables with related shells illustrated by William MacPherson Hornor on the same page as the table offered here. The second of these, with a curvilinear apron and in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, descended in the Norris, Logan and Dickinson families and may be referred to in the 1756 inventory of the townhouse of Charles Norris. In his discussion of the Norris table, Jack L. Lindsey relates it to a group of furniture from the early 1750s and suggests Samuel Harding as a possible carver responsible for these forms (William MacPherson Hornor, Jr. Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture (Washington D.C., 1935), plates 73, 74; Jack L. Lindsey, Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania 1680-1758 (Philadelphia, 1999), pp. 152, 154, fig. 200, cat. 87; see also, James E. Mooney, "Furniture at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania," The Magazine Antiques (May 1978), p. 1036, pl. II; for more on Samuel Harding, see Luke Beckerdite, "An Identity Crisis: Philadelphia and Baltimore Furniture Styles of the Mid Eighteenth Century," Shaping a National Culture: The Philadelphia Experience, 1750-1800, ed. Catherine E. Hutchins (Winterthur, Delaware, 1994), pp. 243-281).
This table may have been first owned by Chief Justice Benjamin Chew (1722-1810) or purchased by him from Governor John Penn (1729-1795). Born in Maryland, Chew trained as a lawyer in London before returning to America where he settled in Philadelphia by 1754. While he may have acquired the table around this time, he was living in what has been described as a relatively modest house on Front Street and a marble slab table like that offered here would have most likely been ordered for a lavish home. It is also possible that the table was made for John Penn, who was in Philadelphia as early as 1752, and later sold to Chew. A good friend of the Governor's, Chew purchased Penn's elegant South Third Street townhouse in 1771 upon the Governor's return to England. As the purchase price was considerably higher than the value of the house, it is likely that the furnishings were included with the sale. Penn returned to Philadelphia in 1773 and, in 1788, once again departed for England. Upon this second departure, Penn's household furnishings were sold at public auction, including a "side-board table" in the "Back Parlour," and Chew may have purchased this table at that time. Other furniture possibly owned by both Penn and Chew includes a set of Marlborough-leg armchairs with carving attributed to Martin Jugiez (d. 1818) (fig. 2) and the tea table with carving attributed to John Pollard (1740-1787) in the following lot. From Chew, the table descended in the family and has long furnished Cliveden, Benjamin Chew's country estate built from 1763 to 1767 (Raymond V. Shepherd, Jr., "Cliveden and Its Philadelphia-Chippendale Furniture: A Documented History," American Art Journal, vol. 8, no. 2 (November, 1976), pp. 2-16; Christie's New York, 3 October 2007, lot 96).