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Pembroke Table

On view

Pembroke Table

Attributed to: Holmes Weaver (active Newport, Rhode Island, 1799-1815)

Date: 1800-1810
Medium: Mahogany, probably maple, brass
Overall: 28 7/8 x 19 3/8 x 29 7/8in. (73.3 x 49.2 x 75.9cm)
Overall (in open position): 28 7/8 x 31 7/8 x 29 7/8in. (73.3 x 81 x 75.9cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Francis M. Metcalf
Object number: 66.98
Label Text
One of the decorative techniques that distinguishes neo-classical furniture is inlay, patterned and pictorial. Patterned inlays - the bands, for example, along the edge of the top of the card table - are created from small pieces of exotic woods. Specialists often made this type of inlay for numerous cabinetmakers. Some pictorial inlays, such as the distinct urn resting on a plinth that is featured at the tops of the legs on the Pembroke table, were made within cabinetmakers' shops rather than by individual specialists. Consequently, pictorial inlays can sometimes be used as aids to determine the maker of an object.

The Pembroke table - a new form of furniture that emerged during the Federal period-was often used for serving breakfast, but the small size, folding leaves, and single drawer fostered other uses.

Text Entries

The Pembroke table was a new form of furniture in federal-period America. Small in size and fitted with folding leaves and a drawer, Pembroke tables were often used for breakfast but also served a wide range of other functions. The maker of this table apparently tumed to a source such as plate 62 in George Hepplewhite’s Cabinet- Mafier and Upholsterers Guide (1794) for inspiration. Dated September 1, 1787, this plate depicts two Pembroke tables, one of which has rectangular leaves and inlaid urns flanking the drawer; the less elegant inlay on the MWPI table is suggestive of the Hepplewhite example. The text notes that “Pembroke Tables are the most useful of this species of furniture: they may be of various shapes. The long square [as with the MWPI table] and oval are the most fashionable.”(1)

It is possible to attribute this table to Holmes Weaver (1769-1848) of Newport, Rhode Island, largely on the basis of its four, distinctive, inlaid urns (inset). Although patterned inlays and some pictorial inlays were made by specialists and used by many cabinetmaking shops, pictorial inlays of the type seen here (termed “single unit” inlays by the scholar Benjamin A. Hewitt) were made within individual shops and therefore can be used as a diagnostic feature. Inlays similar to those on the MWPI table—consisting of urns with a rounded cap resting on a plinth, decorated with engraved decoration, and intertwined stringing terminating in tassels on the legs—are found on a Pembroke table bearing Weaver’s label in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston(2) Scholars have used the MFA table as the basis for attributing a group of stylish Pembroke tables and card tables to Weaver; all have inlaid urns and tassels, and some have inlaid tulips as well.(3)

In the case of the MWPI table, the attribution is strengthened by the existence of a labeled table, without inlay, of virtually the same form and with the same short rectangular leaves.(4) In addition, Weaver’s newspaper advertisement in the Newport Mercury, which first appeared on November 16, 1802, and ran through March 1, 1803, depicts a small table not unlike the MWPI example and a second Pembroke-type table as well.(5) However, because the engraver probably used stock images rather than attempting to depict actual products of Weaver’s shop, the resemblance of the print to this table may be only coincidental. Variations among labeled Weaver tables in features such as cross braces complicate making an attribution to Weaver based on construction details.(6)

Weaver was born in Middleton, Rhode Island, on July 24, 1769, the son of Alice and Thomas Weaver of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Although it is not known with whom he apprenticed, he was running his own shop in Newport before the end of the eighteenth century. His shop, opened at least by the time of his first newspaper advertisement in 1799, was initially located on Meeting Street; between 1806 and I815 Weaver was situated on the north side of Broadway. ln addition to tables, his labeled work includes chests of drawers and clock cases.(7) Although his printed label, engraved by Henry Barber Jr. (ca. 1780-1856), refers to Weaver as a “Cabinet & Chair Maker,” no chairs bearing his label are currently known.(8) The Newport Mercury published Weaver’s obituary on February 19, 1848, noting that he had served as clerk of the Supreme Court for the county and was “a man respected by all who knew him.”

The MWPI table and others like it indicate that Newport cabinetmakers, who had not embraced the rococo style with any degree of enthusiasm, quickly adopted neoclassicism. Many federal-period Pembroke tables made in Newport have rounded or D-shaped leaves, although some, like this table, retain the rectangular leaves more typical of examples made before 1790. Newport Pembroke tables labeled by Robert Lawton and by Stephen and Thomas Goddard also sometimes have inlaid urns, although they are of a different character than Weaver’s.(9)

 Essay by Gerald W.R. Ward

1. George Hepplewhite, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterers Guide (London, 1794; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1969), p. 12, plate 62.

2. Edwin Hipkiss, Eighteenth-Century American Arts: The M. and M. Karolik Collection (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1941), cat. no. 67.

3. See Benjamin A. Hewitt, Patricia E. Kane, and Gerald W. R. Ward, The Work of Many Hands: Card Tables in Federal America, 1790-1820 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), cat. no. 29; and Benjamin A. Hewitt, “Regional Characteristics of Inlay on American Federal Period Card Tables,” Antiques 121, no. 5 (May 1982): 1166, 1169, 1171. Another Pembroke table is at the Chipstone Foundation; see Oswaldo Rodriguez Roque, American Furniture at Chipstone (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), pp. 302-3, no. 141; see also an example, then in a private collection, illustrated in The Collection of Samuel Dale Stevens (1859- 1922) (North Andover, Mass.: North Andover Historical Society, 1971), p. 15. Other card tables are discussed in J. Michael Flanigan, American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1986), pp. 176-77, no. 69. See also tables catalogued in the Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Del., (hereafter DAPC), 71.685 and 66.330 (both attributed to Weaver), and a privately owned card table (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, files).

4. DAPC, 72.468.

5. For Weaver’s labels, see Robert P. Emlen, “Henry Barber and the Newport Sideboards,” Newport History 56 (Fall 1983): 122-33; the newspaper ad is illustrated as fig. 3. The copper plate for one of Weaver’s labels survives in the collections of the Newport Historical Society.

6. The Pembroke tables at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and in the Chipstone collection, for example, vary in construction and differ from the MWPI table. The writer is grateful to Luke Beckerdite for his examination of the construction of the Chipstone table.

7. Biographical information on Weaver is from Ruth Ralston, “Holmes Weaver, Cabinet- and Chairmaker of Newport,” Antiques 41, no. 2 (February 1942): 133-35; Ralph E. Carpenter Jr., The Arts and Crafts of Newport, Rhode Island, 1640-1820 (Newport, R.1.: Preservation Society of Newport County, 1954), pp. 24, 26; Ethel Hall Bjerkoe, The Cabinetmakers of America (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday and Co., 1957), pp. 229-30; Joseph K. Ott, “Lesser-Known Rhode Island Cabinetmakers: The Carlisles, Holmes Weaver, Judson Blake, the Rawsons, and Thomas Davenport,” Antiques 121, no. 5 (May 1982): 1158-59, in addition to many of the sources cited above. Weaver’s labeled clock cases and chests of drawers are recorded in DAPC along with other objects attributed to him.

8. Nancy Goyne Evans, American Windsor Chairs (New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1996), p. 715, records a spurious Holmes Weaver brand on Windsor chairs; see also DAPC, 66.691.

9. A representative body of Newport Pembroke tables is illustrated in Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984). See also Girl Scouts Loan Exhibition of Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century Furniture and Glass . . . for the Benefit of the National Council of Girl Scouts, Inc. (New York: Anderson Art Galleries, 1929), no. 688.