Box House Antiques

Some useful tips on how to establish the authenticity of Georgian multiple pedestal dining tables

Some useful tips on how to establish the authenticity of Georgian multiple pedestal dining tables. These observations are included thanks largely to conversations had back in the 1950’s with old established dealers who often started their careers as young apprentice cabinet makers commissioned to create the numerous ‘alterations’ we encounter today:

In all too many cases ‘Georgian’ twin/multiple pedestal dining tables have been made up from non-original elements. This affects value greatly. In fact probably 80% of mulitple pedestal tables we see today have been adapted in some way to satisfy a huge demand. First of all great care must be taken to confirm that all the top sections belong originally to their bases. Very commonly extra, and often period, tops have been cleverly matched and added. The frames supporting the tops must be closely examined – there should not be any screw holes left unaccounted for, and there should be a build-up of patina around the under framing confirming that the frames have never been disturbed. The same goes for brass fittings.

Most examples of multiple pedestal tables are adapted and out of period, with many thousands made-up in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Huge numbers are being manufactured even today. Many heavy, large and often ugly, ‘High Victorian’ extending dining tables were cannibalised before WWII, with their often beautiful tops stripped of their skirts, and then married to pedestal bases. Referred to in the trade as ‘breakers’, these heavy Victorian mahogany dining tables are now usually left well alone because they can fetch surprisingly high prices in their own right, since fashions and tastes have changed. A genuine multi-pedestal Georgian dining table must be in solid mahogany, never walnut or rosewood, and certainly never veneered.

The sheer numbers and physical bulk of these Victorian dining tables attest to the devastation wrought in regions with slow growing mahogany taken from their place of origin. The best came from the West Indies, Honduras and Cuba. Only one solitary tree remains on the island of Tortola!

Much mahogany planking was taken as ballast on sailing ships returning to England from the infamous eighteenth century ‘triangle trade’: namely manufactured goods from England to Africa; slaves to the West Indies; and molasses; rum; mahogany and exotic hardwoods back to England. Huge fortunes were made in this trade. It is said that a £10,000 profit was possible from a round trip in the late eighteenth century, when a working man’s wage might be 15 shillings per week.

Check carefully that all top sections have been cut from the same cross section of timber, i.e. the figuring must match. Another tell-tale is that dowels and tongues must fit precisely together and that none remains unaccounted for.

Pedestal dining tables should never have their tops supported by added, individual, removable rails or bearers – the sure sign of a made-up table. Very occasionally the leaves might gain extra support by swiveling recessed ears, however this is a rare feature which you would more likely encounter on Pembroke tables. A genuine twin pedestal dining table should have its centre leaf supported only by its brass table forks. Originally twin pedestal dining tables would only have had a single leaf insertion, as any more would clearly make the table unstable.

Dining tables with ingenious ‘patent’ actions also exist. These can be in the form of a telescopic action (e.g. Wilkinson Patent Moorfields, and an expanding type action patented by Robert Jupe) with complex mechanical wind-up mechanisms. Sometimes these nineteenth century tables display a coveted maker’s label, and some even retain their original baize-lined separate housing to store the leaves when not in use. Allowances should be made for some leaves to differ in colour due to differences in exposure to UV light and frequency of use.

Brass table forks and their recessed brass guides should be original and not re-located (allowance can be made for one or two replacements due to loss or to old screws losing their purchase) but beware if all brass forks are new. Generally speaking these tables were not originally made to tilt, but some versions have been made with this useful feature in order to facilitate storage.

The best table bases are supported on well carved turned columns with down swept sabre supports terminating in original brass cappings and brass castors (never ceramic nor bakelite). Claw cappings indicate a later date than the square versions. The edges of the tops on later versions might have thumb nail mouldings. Earlier edges may be reeded to complement the sabre leg. Thumb nail mouldings commonly appeared after about 1820 (N.b. These can be easily removed and reeded to suggest earlier origins).

These hugely sought-after pedestal dining tables are among the most difficult to authenticate by the amateur. A design of table much in demand largely because they are the most convenient to sit at, without legs and aprons to obstruct diners. Made-up and altered tables may of course be acceptable to many, but pricing accordingly is of paramount importance.

Beware of the common use of descriptive euphemisms such as ‘basically’, ’19th century’, ‘altered’, ‘adapted’, ‘and later’ etc. As such these terms are used to obfuscate.

John & Alex Maas (Box House Antiques).