The present lot features six rectangular top tables each above faux-bamboo-turned legs, on scrolled supports. These nesting tables were among the furnishings commissioned from Duncan Phyfe and Son of New York City by Governor John Manning and his wife Susan Hampton Manning for Millford Plantation, in what is now Sumter County, South Carolina between 1840 and 1841.This famous New York firm was the obvious choice for a commission of the highest quality furniture at the time. The firm was founded by cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854) who took his sons Michael and James Duncan into partnership in 1837, thus naming the firm Duncan Phyfe and Sons. Upon the death of Michael in 1840, the firm was known as Duncan Phyfe and Son, its name until it closed in 1847.
In June of 1841, Duncan Phyfe and Son delivered fifty-eight pieces of furniture packed in forty-seven boxes to John Manning's agent in Charleston, South Carolina, documented by a bill of lading now in the State Archives in Columbia, South Carolina. The bill, dated June 2, 1841 reads in part “We enclose you a list of Boxes already shipped to the care of your agent in Charleston from which you will be able to know the contents of each Box” (Kenny and Brown, p. 279). Duncan Phyfe and Son sent these nesting tables in box 35, listing them as "35 Nest Tables”. Later, they were prominently displayed in the drawing room at Millford Plantation, evidenced by an early twentieth-century photograph of this room.
Between 1852 and 1854, John Manning served as the governor of South Carolina and later, after the South seceded from the Union, served the Confederacy on the staff of General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. During the last year of the War General Potter led a raid through Watchman and Southron, South Carolina crossing through Millford Plantation on April 19, 1865. Luckily, Milford Plantation and all of its furnishings remained intact, due in large part to Governor Manning’s tenuous negotiations with Brigadier General Edward E. Potter.
After John Manning’s death in 1889, the tables descended through the family of his second wife, Sally Bland Clarke. As Kenny And Brown discuss in their text, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York, nesting tables of this type were often associated with women. Their light delicate structure and accordion quality, lent themselves perfectly as a small worktable, tea or board games table. They could be pulled from the wall at a moments notice to the center of the room, if an unexpected guest arrived and then just as easily be pushed back together leaving the floor open once more. As such, it is telling that these tables were passed down through female lines, probably coveted for their practicality and splendor by generations of women. Today these nesting tables are an important surviving example of Phyfe’s classical oeuvre.