This tea table was previously owned by Hope Goddard Iselin (1868-1970), a renowned sportswoman and philanthropist. Born in Rhode Island, she was a great-great granddaughter of Nicholas Brown (1729-1791), one of the Brown brothers, preeminent merchants of Providence and founders of Brown University. Among the furniture owned by Nicholas Brown are some of the most celebrated and in today's market, expensive icons of American decorative arts. These include his magnificent block-and-shell desk and bookcase, scalloped-top tea table and pair of corner chairs. Based on these surviving masterpieces and documentary evidence, Nicholas Brown turned to cabinetmaker John Goddard (1724-1785) of Newport for his most important commissions. While apparently not signed by Nicholas Brown, a 1766 letter from his company referred to Goddard as "the neetest [sic] workman in America," an accolade that almost certainly reflects the opinions of Brown himself (Christie's, New York, The Magnificent Nicholas Brown Desk and Bookcase, 3 June 1989, lot 100; Sotheby's, New York, Property of the Goddard Family, 22 January 2005, lots 809, 822, 842; The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, RIF1232 and 4193).
As interior photographs of Hope Goddard Iselin's Long Island home suggest a collecting penchant for European decorative arts, it is very possible that she inherited the table offered here and Nicholas Brown stands as one of her Rhode Island ancestors who may have been its first owner. If so, the table's exquisite craftsmanship and elegant lines may prove to be the work of Goddard. Another closely related table with the same shaping to its moldings, returns and legs also has a provenance linking its production to the shop of John Goddard. Owned by Goddard's neighbor and friend, Thomas Robinson (1730-1817), this related table appears to have been made in the same shop as the table offered here (Christie's, New York, 20-21 January 2005, lot 550). If first owned by Nicholas Brown, the line of descent of the table offered here is as follows: Nicholas Brown to his daughter, Hope (Brown) Ives (1773-1855) to her daughter, Charlotte Rhoda (Ives) Goddard (1792-1881), to her son, Capt. William Goddard (1825-1907), the father of Hope. Hope inherited considerable wealth as one of the beneficiaries of the estate of her grandfather, William Giles Goddard (1794-1846) (unrelated to the cabinetmaker), and her riches increased upon her marriage to Charles Oliver Iselin (1854-1932), a member of a New York banking family that originally hailed from Switzerland. He was one of the greatest yachtsmen of his day, both owner and skipper of three successful America's Cup syndicates. On one of these races, the victory of the Columbia over the British entry, Shamrock, in 1899, Hope herself sailed aboard, becoming the first woman to ever participate in an America's Cup (fig. 1). She was also a keen golfer and prominent horsewoman and among the many beneficiaries of her and her husband's philanthropy is the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum in Aiken, South Carolina.