These elegant card-tables are inlaid and ormolu-mounted after the George III French antique fashion of the 1760's. Their marquetried tablets of silken harewood are ribbon-banded in rosewood, whose parquetry is striated from the centre and creates lozenged compartments uniting the tops and façades. The tops, which are flowered in the hollowed spandrels of the tablets, display sporting trophies of cards, while the floral counters are incorporated in their cartouche frames of ribbon-tied Roman acanthus. Similar 'rainceaux' of foliage enrich the frieze tablets, while the feet of the serpentined and taper-hermed legs are also embellished with golden bas relief foliage.
The delicate lines of the coloured arabesques of inlaid foliage evoke in particular the decoration of Roman places of entertainment, such as appear on the ceiling in the ancient Baths of Augustus illustrated in Bernard de Montfaucon's L'Antiquité Expliqué', Paris, 1764 (Supplement, vol. III, pl. LIX). The fashion for such ornament had been promoted by the architect Robert Adam (d. 1792), who had, for instance, adopted the Augustus ceiling design for Lady Scarsdale's apartment at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. Her ceiling was executed in 1760 by Adam's Rome-trained Italian artist, Agostino Brunias, and described as 'quite in a new taste' (E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, London 2001, p. 22, figs. 21 and 20).
In place of the armorials or figurative medallions, the table centres display three piles of playing cards, whose upturned hands include the Garter-wreathed Ace of Spades bearing the 1765 stamp duty letter. Such whimsical trompe l'oeil decoration had long been fashionable for marble and scagliola tables, however on this occasion the game of 'vingt et un' revealed on these tables may possibly link them with one of London's fashionable Asssembly Rooms, such as those operated during the 1760s at Carlisle House, Soho by the Austrian singer Theresa Cornleys (d. 1797).
The style of their ribbon-tied inlay in the French 'arabesque' fashion also relates to ornament introduced by Thomas Chippendale Junior (d. 1821), and used to advertise his succession to his father's St. Martin's lane workshops in 1779 when he published his pattern-book entitled, Sketches of Ornaments. The Chippendale firm were also to include similar foliage, accompanying laureled urns, on inlaid corner cupboards that were listed in a dressing-room in the 1795 inventory of Harewood House, Yorkshire (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol.II, fig. 223).
If the tables come from the Chippendale workshops, the possibility that these tables were commissioned by Theresa Cornleys is enhanced since Messrs Chippendale and Haig were listed amongst her creditors at the time of her 1772 bankruptcy. During the previous decade she had furnished Carlisle House in a sumptuous manner, causing Fanny Burney to write in 1770: 'The magnificence of the rooms, splendour of the illuminations and embellishments and the brilliant appearance of company exceeded anything I ever before saw' (O. Brackett, Thomas Chippendale, London, 1924, p.83). Also it was disclosed at the Court of Bankruptcy on 31 March 1773, that Madame Cornleys' estate including her 'Magnificent Dwelling House' and the 'furniture and ornaments' which had been inventoried at Carlisle House in 1771 had all been acquired on behalf of Chippendale and his syndicate. It was also recorded on this occasion that since the valuation of contents had been made in 1767, a further sum of money had been laid out in the fitting up of a 'Gallery and China Room' at Carlisle House (Bracket, ibid., pp. 138-141).
A pair of related inlaid card-tables, was sold by the descendants of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, and formerly at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, Lawrence's, Crewkerne, Somerset, 6 May 1999, lot 411, £150,000. A pair of the present model was offered anonymously Sotheby's New York, 22 January 1999, lot 244 which may be those illustrated in M. Jourdain, English Furniture and Decoration of the later 18th century, New York, n.d., p. 227, fig. 348.