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Games Table

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Games Table

Maker: John Meeks, 1801-1875, and Joseph W. Meeks, 1805-1878 (New York, New York; active 1836-1859)

Date: 1845-1850
Medium: Rosewood, satinwood, mahogany, yellow-poplar, walnut
Overall: 29 3/8 x 33 x 18 1/4in. (74.6 x 83.8 x 46.4cm)
Signed: Stenciled label inside drawer: "J & J.W. MEEKS / MAKERS / No 14 Vesey St. / NEW YORK"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase, in part with funds given by James and Patricia Rudi in memory of Robert Oehme
Object number: 91.30
Label Text
Because nineteenth-century craftsmen frequently borrowed from historical vocabularies with scant archeological correctness, revival styles often became amalgamated. The games table, a product of this eclecticism, embodies both Rococo and Elizabethan design elements. C-scrolls, foliage, and shell motifs constitute Rococo Revival components. Simulated strapwork and turned pendants are indicative of the Elizabethan style. The dense blend of decorative details manifests the period's growing preoccupation with rich and, ultimately, naturalistic carving.


Text Entries

The Meeks family cabinetmaking firm was one of the largest and most prolific furniture operations in New York City during the first half of the nineteenth century.(1) The firm evolved through three generations of cabinet-makers from a shop headed by a single master craftsman to a large manufacturing establishment that, by 1850, reportedly employed more than 125 people.(2) As the Meeks firm developed, its product line was diversified to include a variety of revival styles in different price categories. The firm provided broad consumer choices ranging from common “fancy chairs” and painted and grained washstands to lavishly upholstered bedsteads and ornately carved étageres. While the firm’s operations were always based in New York City, the Meeks family expanded its market by distributing products to locations such as Savannah, Georgia; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Natchez, Mississippi.

Joseph Meeks (1771-1868) established the firm bearing his name in 1797. After working with his brother Edward through 1799, Joseph operated independently until 1828 and then went into business with his sons from 1829 to 1835. Upon their father’s retirement, John (1801-75) and Joseph W. (1805-78) Meeks formed the partnership of “J. &J. W. Meeks,” which lasted from 1836 until 1859. The R. G. Dun & Company credit report dated March 22, 1858, notes that the brothers “have been selling off for some time past, reducing their stock & trying to get out of bus’ [iness] .”(3) After Joseph W. Meeks retired and the  &  W. Meeks firm was dissolved, John Meeks worked in the furniture trade under his own name in 1859 and 1860 before entering into business with his son from 1861 to 1863.(4) The firm was operated under the direction of John Meeks Jr. (1835-92) from 1863 through 1869, closing a few months after the death of its original founder.(5)

The MWPI games table probably dates to the mid-1840s, a period when the Meeks finn produced furniture in a variety of styles. Indeed, in 1844 the New Mirror recommended a tour of the Meeks wareroom for “amusement”: “The fancies of every age and country are represented—those of the Elizabethan era and the ornate fashion of Louis XIV. predominant [sic], though tables and sofas on Egyptian models are more sumptuous.(6)

As nineteenth-century craftsmen frequently borrowed from historical vocabularies with scant archaeological correctness, revival styles often became amalgamated. The MWPI games table is a product of this eclecticism, embodying both the rococo and Elizabethan idioms popular in midcentury America. Rococo revival elements are employed on the table in the C-scrolls—used as structural and decorative devices on the supports, stretcher, and legs—and in the representation of foliage and shells. Details evocative of Elizabethan Renaissance precedents include simulated strapwork and turned pendants. This dense configuration of elements manifests the period’s growing preoccupation with rich and, ultimately, naturalistic carving.

The rectangular top of the MWPI table has semi-circular ends with carved and pierced ornamentation on the apron. Alternating squares of inlaid light and dark woods create a central game board. A drawer under the top is embellished with a beveled molding. Carved foliage, C-scrolls, and turned pendants are harmoniously united by carved strapwork to form the table supports. The stretcher is composed of carved C-scrolls with a turned finial and pendant at the center. Both pairs of legs are separated by a central carved shell and terminate in flattened disk feet.(7)

The large number of objects bearing the stenciled mark of J.  W. Meeks (fig. 31) exhibit a wide range in quality.(8) In contrast to the bold, veneered forms produced in the Grecian style by Joseph Meeks & Sons between 1829 and 1835, the objects &J. W. Meeks made during the late 1830s and early 1840s are often rudimentary in form and poorly proportioned, suggesting that the sons lowered the overall quality of their product line to decrease prices and to increase volume of production. During the late 1840s and early 1850s, however, the firm also produced a select group of cabinets, étageres, and tables (including this games table) in the rococo and Elizabethan styles that, in design and workmanship, is equal to the firm’s earlier repertoire. The MWPI table is emblematic of the firm’s highest level of achievement.

Essay by Jodi Pollack

1. The business history of the Meeks firm is drawn from a detailed chronology compiled by the author for the Department of American Decorative Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This work has been expanded into Jodi A. Pollack, “Three Generations of Meeks Craftsmen, 1797-1869: A History of Their Business and Furniture“ (M.A. thesis, Program in the History of Decorative Arts, Parsons School of Design and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 1998). Previous literature on the firm includes John N. Pearce, Lorraine W. Pearce, and Robert C. Smith, “The Meeks Family of Cabinetmakers,” Antiques 85, no. 4 (April 1964): 414-20; John Pearce and Lorraine W. Pearce, “More on the Meeks Cabinetmakers,” Antiques 90, no. 1 (July 1966): 69-73; Ed Polk Douglas, “Rococo Roses, Part III: Blessed Are the Meeks(s),” The New York -Pennsylvania Collector 4 (August 1979): 1, 10-13; and Ed Polk Douglas, “Rococo Roses, Part IV: Faith and Furniture," The New York-Pennsylvania Collector 4 (September 1979): 12-15.

2. Bureau of the Census, Seventh Census of the U. S., Products of Industry, 1850, City of New York, N.Y., 3d Ward, p.  This census indicates that the firm employed 125 male workers at a total average monthly cost of $3,500 and six female workers at an average monthly cost of $100, had invested $150,000 in the business, and produced 2,000 pieces of furniture annually valued at $200,000.

3. New York Vol. 191, p. 404, R. G. Dun & Co. Collection, Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Boston, Mass.

4. The dissolution of the J. & J. W. Meeks firm is discussed in the R. G. Dun & Co. report of Feb. 14, 1859: “Diss[olve]d. the 12th Inst. The outst[an]d[in]g. affairs of the late firm will be settled at thr. Late place of bus[iness], Nos. 333 & 335 Fourth st. Cor. Broadway, either ptnr. being authorized to sign in liquidatn. ‘Joseph W. Meeks’ retires 84: ‘John Meeks’ will cont. the Cabinet Furniture bus. at the same place as heretofore on his own a/c.” New York Vol. 191, p. 404, R. G. Dun 8c Co. Collection.

5. Joseph Meeks died July 21, 1868. The final directory listings for John Meeks Jr.’s furniture firm appear in Trow’s New York City Directory for the Year Ending May I, 1869 (New York: John F. Trow, 1868), and in Wilson’s Business Directory of New York City [1869] (New York: John F. Trow, 1869). Because the last report filed for the firm by R. G. Dun & Co. is dated Nov. 7, 1868, the firm appears to have dissolved between that date and Apr. 30, 1869.

6. “Chit-Chat of New-York,” The New Mirror, Mar. 9, 1844, p. 367. I am grateful to Jeni L. Sandberg for bringing this reference to my attention.

7. I wish to thank Richard Dubrow and Eileen Dubrow for informing me of a second example of this form, also bearing the stenciled label of J. & J. W. Meeks, in a private collection.

8. The MWPI games table is identified by a black stenciled label, with the firm's address from 1836 to 1855, on the interior of the drawer.