Elaborate in design, construction and ornament, this pair of card tables illustrates the sophistication of Charles Honoré Lannuier's cabinetwork as well as the incorporation of English Regency fashions into his largely French-inspired oeuvre. The attribution is based upon closely related brass-inlaid ornament on a pair of card tables labeled by Lannuier. This pair of card tables, which bear a bilingual printed label, were exhibited at the White House and are now in a private collection (Peter M. Kenny, Frances F. Bretter, and Ulrich Leben, Honoré Lannuier: Cabinetmaker from Paris (New York, 1998), p. 58, pl. 22; p. 206, cat. 57-58). Another pair of card tables attributed to Lannuier present similar brass inlay (sold, Sotheby's, New York, Property from the Collection of Richard and Gloria Manney, May 1981, lot 1068). Further supporting the tables' attribution to Lannuier, these tables display design and construction features that are atypical of the form, as most elliptic-top examples have three legs and a "trick-leg" swing mechanism, rather than four legs and swivel-tops seen here. Here, Lannuier may have been influenced by the work of his principal competitor, Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854), who is most often associated with the production of elliptical-top card tables with downswept legs (for two similar examples made by Phyfe, see Peter M. Kenny and Michael K. Brown, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (New York, 2011), pp. 118, 176-177, fig. 144, pl. 12). Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), the renowned architect, is credited for designing the first suite of American furniture to include swivel-top card tables in his commission for William Waln (1775-1826), completed in 1810. Although a French trained cabinetmaker likely saw the design prior to leaving France in 1803, other swivel-top card tables only appear after 1810 and other American swivel-top card tables appear to post-date this commission (Philip Zimmerman, "New York Card Tables: 1800-1825," American Furniture 2005, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2005), p 128). Lannuier's swivel-top similarly appears on an assembled pair of card tables attributed to Lannuier that were offered at Doyle, New York, 29 November 2006, lot 2135 by a private collector (Kenny, Bretter and Leben, p. 208, cat. no. 64). Another related example of a swivel-top card table by Lannuier has four pilasters over a base plinth with four carved feet (Kenny, Bretter and Leben, p. 155, fig. 88, cat. no. 65). Lannuier appears to have used swivel-top mechanisms almost exclusively in his tables made after 1810 (See Kenney, Bretter and Leben, pp. 178-180).
Displaying the influence of both French and English ornament, these tables were among the most expensive forms available to Americans in the early nineteenth century. The brass inlaid ornaments reflect the goût modern for the French design in American homes. English influence appears with the Regency inspired waterleaf carved urn and legs. According to the 1810 New York Book of Prices, a "Veneered Eliptic [sic] Pillar and Claw Card Table" was one of the most expensive and elaborate classical card-table forms available to New York clients. The labor cost alone for this form was five pounds, eight shillings and embellishments such as brass inlay and a double or treble, rather than single, elliptical-top further added to the cost of the forms illustrated by the tables offered here (New York Revised Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet and Chair Work (London, 1810); Wendy A. Cooper, In Praise of America (New York, 1980), pp. 260-262).
The tables have survived with a family history going back to Abraham J. Berry (1798-1865), a prominent Brooklyn physician and Surgeon General of the 2nd Army Corps in the Civil War. His family owned large tracts of land in Williamsburg and, in 1852, he served as Williamsburg's first mayor. Though Berry would have been too young to have been the first owner of these tables and little is known of his parentage or that of his wife, Mary Caroline Egbert, it is possible that the tables entered the Berry family in the late nineteenth century as Abraham's granddaughter, Anita (Annie) Berry (b.c.1867) married Eugene Emile Varet (1853-1902), the grandson of Lewis F. Varet (1783-1840). Lewis F. Varet, also known as Louis François, was a French merchant who in 1829-1830 was living at 36 Beach Street with his business premises at 147 Pearl Street, an address just two blocks from the location of Lannuier's earlier cabinetshop at 60 Broad Street. Thus, given their shared heritage, geographic proximity and related trades, it is very possible that these tables were made for Varet (for Varet, see Longworth's American Almanac, New-York Register and City Directory for 1829 (New York, 1829), p. 580).