Combining excellence in form and ornament, this scalloped-top tea table illustrates the assured splendor achieved by Philadelphia's leading craftsmen in the pre-Revolutionary era. The carver was a master of his craft, known to have created some of the most opulent furnishings made in eighteenth-century Philadelphia, and it is probable that the table was made in the renowned shop of Benjamin Randolph (1721-1791). In this table, the talents of both carver and cabinetmaker are evident in the beautifully balanced design in which the disparate components, the top, column and legs, are visually unified by the carved ornament. The table displays all of the carved options listed in the 1772 Philadelphia Price Book, making it among the most expensive models of the form available in Philadelphia at the time. Made of mahogany with "claw feet," "leaves on the knees," "scalloped top" and "carved pillar," the table would have cost L5 15 shillings, plus an extra five shillings for "fluting the pillar" (Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley, The 1772 Philadelphia Furniture Price Book: A Facsimile (Philadelphia, 2005), p. 16).
The carver of the table has been suggested by Alan Miller to be Richard Butts (or possibly George Connelly). These two carvers were employed by Benjamin Randolph along with John Pollard and Hercules Courtenay and produced the most dynamic and exuberantly carved embellishments in 18th Century Philadelphia furniture.
In addition to this carver's involvement with several Randolph commissions, evidence for this table's production in the Randolph shop includes its close similarities to other tripod tables associated with the shop and Hercules Courtenay (d. 1784) in particular. A tea table that sold Christie's New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eddy G. Nicholson, January 27-28, 1995, lot 1081 is closely related in form and its turned components-the fluted column, suppressed ball and reel turning-are seemingly identical to those on this table. As noted by Alan Miller, the Nicholson table bears carving by Courtenay and was made while he was working in Randolph's shop. Furthermore, the talons of this table's ball-and-claw feet bear highly unusual gouges defining the knuckles. This feature has only otherwise been seen on furniture with carving by Courtenay, indicating that feet with these gouges were all consistently made by another individual working in the same shop or made by Courtenay himself (conversation with Alan Miller, November 25, 2009). Either scenario supports the likelihood that this table was a product of Randolph's shop.
Working alongside Pollard (1740-1787) and Courtenay (d. 1784), this craftsman, possibly Richard Butts, was one of Philadelphia's most significant carvers of the late 1760s and 1770s. Among the hallmarks of his work are central acanthus leaves with distinctive, rounded tips and wide veining grooves on the ancillary leaves. Both details are seen on this table as well as several other examples of his work, including the knees of the set of side chairs made for Colonel John Cadwalader (1742-1786) with gadrooned front rails (figs. 1, 2). As noted by Miller, this carver often employed design motifs favored by Courtenay and Pollard; the bellflowers on the legs of this table, for example, are reminiscent of those seen on the most celebrated examples of Pollard's work, such as the suite of furniture made for David Deshler. Numerous sets of chairs display ornament carved by both this carver and Pollard, supporting the theory that this carver's identity is Richard Butts, Pollard's partner in 1773, when they advertised on February 22 in the Pennsylvania Packet:
POLLARD AND BUTTS -- At the sign of the Chinese Shield in Chestnut-street between Third and Fourth streets, and nearly opposite to the Carpenters Hall, Beg leave to inform the public that they undertake, to do all manner of Carving in the House, Cabinet, Coach and Ship way, in the newest and most elegant taste, and on the most reasonable terms. (Cited in Alfred Coxe Prime, The Arts and Crafts in Philadelphia, Maryland, and South Carolina, 1721-1785 (Philadelphia, 1929), p. 224)
For more on Courtenay and Pollard, see Beatrice B. Garvan, entries, Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia, 1976), pp. 111-114; Luke Beckerdite,"Philadelphia Carving Shops, Part III: Hercules Courtenay and His School," The Magazine Antiques (May 1987), pp. 1052-63; Leroy Graves and Luke Beckerdite, "New Insights on John Cadwalader's Commode-Seat Side Chairs," American Furniture 2000, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee: The Chipstone Foundation, 2000), pp. 152-168). For references to Richard Butts, see Garvan, p. 114; Sotheby's New York, January 18, 2003, lot 907; Andrew Brunk, "Benjamin Randolph Revisited," American Furniture 2007, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee: The Chipstone Foundation, 2007), pp. 47, 76.
As identified by Miller, furniture displaying the work of this carver includes: The hairy paw-foot side chairs with gadrooned front rails made for Cadwalader (figs. 1, 2) and en suite card tables (see Charles F. Hummel, American Chippendale Furniture: Middle Atlantic and Southern Colonies (New York, 1976), p. 106, fig. 99); a pair of hairy paw-foot card tables (Sotheby Parke Bernet, May 10-11, 1974, lot 446; Skinner, June 16, 1990, lot 240) and en suite sofa (William MacPherson Hornor, Jr., Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture (1935), pl. 99); a set of side chairs with replaced hairy paw feet (one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrated in Morrison H. Heckscher, American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Queen Anne and Chippendale Styles (New York, 1985), no. 58; also illustrated in Brunk, p. 38, fig. 58); the only known hairy paw-foot Philadelphia tea table (fig. 3); two related scalloped-top tea tables (Loan Exhibition of eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture and glassFor the benefit of the National Council of Girl Scouts (New York, 1929), no. 612; Sotheby's New York, January 28-31, 1994, lot 1295); a pier table in the Baltimore Museum of Art (William Voss Elder and Jayne E. Stokes, American Furniture, 1660-1880 (Baltimore, 1987), no. 108); a scroll-foot side chair at Colonial Williamsburg (Brunk, p. 36, figs. 54, 55); a card table at Winterthur Museum (Joseph Downs, American Furniture: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods (New York, 1952), no. 343).