The ceremony of drinking tea came into England from the Orient through trading channels with Holland or Portugal and by the end of the 17th century 'that excellent drink called by the Chinese Teka, by other nations Tay or alias tee' became all the rage. It was at this time that special tables for holding tea equipage were first made. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the price of tea had dropped dramatically, the many once-fashionable tea houses were considered common and members of English society began to entertain their friends at home, often in special tea-rooms sometimes decorated in the prevailing Chinese taste. This created a new market for the accoutrements of the ceremony. A contributor to Female Spectator commented in 1745: 'The tea-table costs more to support than would maintain two children at nurse'.
The tea table took many forms including tripod (or 'claw') tables, some cut to hold silver salvers and others conceived in partitions to hold individual cups and saucers, tilting on their bases so they could be placed against the wall when not in use. This tray table appropriately fretted in the Chinese manner and with its elegant foliate-embossed cabriole legs and scrolled toes relates closely to patterns published by Thomas Chippendale in his The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director of 1754 (plate XXXIIII). These tables, he comments, are 'for holding Each a Set of China, and may be used as Tea-Tables'. The intertwined ribbon blind fretwork frieze derives from designs published in The Universal System of Household Furniture, another influential pattern book issued around the same time by the London cabinet-makers Messrs. Mayhew and Ince in 1762. In the latter, a design showing two 'Writing and Reading Tables', plate XXIV, shows various alternatives incorporating similar fretwork patterns. An artist's table attributed to Mayhew and Ince with closely related pierced frieze, previously in the collection of Percival D. Griffiths, and sold by the members of the Blackwell family, was sold Christie's London, 9 July 1992, lot 142. A pair of side tables with similar blind fretwork was sold Christie's London, 17 April 1997, lot 40.
This elegant cabriole legged example relates to a serpentine-sided table commissioned for Charlton Park, Kent and now in the Jon Gerstenfeld collection in Washington, D.C. (see E. Lennox-Boyd, ed., Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, no.19, p.201) and another in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrated in R. Edwards, ed., The Dictionary of English Furniture, rev.edn., London, 1954, vol.III, p.204, fig.2.