The Isaac Perkins Family Federal eagle-inlaid mahogany card table, probably New York, 1800-1815. Sold for $100,000 on 20 January 2017 at Christie’s in New York

‘My highlight of 2017’ — A Federal eagle-inlaid table

John Hays, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Americas, explains why this mahogany card table — probably made in New York — represents the best of 19th-century Americana

Immediately following the American Revolution, artisans across the newly formed United States began painting, sculpting and carving stars, shields, husks and eagles into their wares. These pieces, produced through to about 1820 — a period now referred to by art historians as the Federal era — were made for a wealthy clientele keen to celebrate their new national identity.

‘This five-legged card table from the early 19th century retained its original surface, which means everything to the market,’ says John Hays, American furniture specialist at Christie’s in New York. ‘It had not been cleaned and the finish was that which the original cabinetmaker had put on it — albeit wonderfully dirty,’ he enthuses. 

The table is believed to have been a gift to Isaac Perkins (1780-1840), a lawyer in Hartford, Connecticut, from his fellow Brothers in the Masonic St. John’s Lodge #4. Perkins served as Master of St. John’s Lodge from 1829 to 1832, and as State Attorney from 1839 to 1840.

‘Without the inlaid eagle motif — the most emblematic symbol of American pride — the table would be worth $5,000. Instead it sold for 20 times that figure’

‘The jewel in this table is an inlaid eagle motif, the most emblematic symbol of American pride,' the specialist continues. 'Without this detail the table would be worth $5,000. Instead it sold for $100,000 — 20 times that figure.’

After Isaac Perkins’s death, the table passed to his son, Henry Perkins (1814-1862), who was also a lawyer and a member of the same Masonic lodge. It remained in the Perkins family for the better part of two centuries. For Hays, the table’s strong result at auction ‘underscores the three factors that really motivate collectors of Americana: patriotism, pride, and provenance.’