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Antique Tables: History

Brief history of antique tables in England and introduction to the topic of furnishing with wood tables, sideboards, bureaux, etc.

Tables belong to such a very large family that to trace all its branches and discuss them in detail would be a very considerable task. Mainly they are descended from the roughly-made trestle tables that furnished the rush-strewn halls of medieval times ; but directly the chief function of the table ceased to be the bearing of food, immediately its uses were manifolded, then did the evolution of its innumerable forms begin.

The production of such an ingenious piece of furniture as the Monk's bench, a settle with a high back, hinged to fold down on the arms to form a table, gave promise of great developments in tables and table forms, and the record of work executed in oak is filled with interest and is a permanent tribute to the imaginative fertility and artistic judgment of the early furniture craftsmen.

If the trestle tables of early times, such as Tudor tables, had survived in large numbers there would be no object in including them in any modern furnishing schemes : the experimental stage of design is tremendously interesting, but nothing more. We could not honestly welcome the introduction of such crudities as eleventh century folk tolerated, and a note of incongruity is struck by furniture dating from the early and more primitive days of design when it is associated with the finished products of later times. The crudely simple types of tables can have no part in our furnishing, though we may sometimes copy them for summer houses and garden rooms.

1901 Interior with Trestle Table
1901 Interior with Trestle Table.
An austerely decorated dining room, with narrow guild trestle table and ladder-back chairs.

The credence, which may have been the direct ancestor of the side table, is mentioned later together with the court cupboard. Writing tables are considered in conjunction with desks and bureaux in the last section of the present section. The terms credence, buffet, sideboard, and so forth, overlap in their application and it is difficult to separate them for description. The credence, for instance, was a side table where food was served, its original use being for the tasting of food before it was served to guests as a precaution or guarantee against poison.

In dealing with tables it would be the simplest plan to follow the method adopted previously, taking each room separately and discussing the types most suitable for its furnishing. As the original use of the table was for dining, it will be a fit, proper and orderly proceeding to consider dining room tables first.

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