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AN OLDER LEATHER TOP TABLE
CLOVER LEAF DESIGN
OGEE PIE CRUST EDGE
SCALLOP SHAPE SHELLS DECORATE SIDES
SLEEK SLIPPER FOOT
WITH A CENTER TIER
VERY SIMILAR TO BOSTON / IRELAND TYPE CABINETRY
THE TABLE MEASURES ABOUT 33" ACROSS THE TOP
AND ABOUT 17" HIGH
TABLE IS 'USED' / LIGHT SURFACE WEAR
OTHERWISE IN VERY FINE CONDITION.
EXACT PERIOD UNKNOWN.
ESTIMATED CIRCA 1920
VERY VICTORIAN DECOR
A coffee table, also called a cocktail table, is a style of long, low table which is designed to be placed in front of a sofa, to support beverages (hence the name), magazines, books (especially coffee table books), and other small items to be used while sitting, such as beverage coasters. Coffee tables are usually found in the living room or sitting room. They are available in many different variations and prices vary from style to style. Coffee tables may also incorporate cabinets for storage.
The idiom "Gather round the coffee table" is derived from the furniture piece and its proclivity for encouraging conviviality and light conversation.
Origins of the coffee table In Europe, ,the first tables specifically designed as and called coffee tables, appear to have been made in Britain during the late Victorian era.
According to the listing in Victorian Furniture by R. W. Symonds & B. B. Whineray and also in The Country Life Book of English Furniture by Edward T. Joy, a table designed by E. W. Godwin in 1868 and made in large numbers by William Watt, and Collinson and Lock, is a coffee table. If this is correct it may be one of the earliest made in Europe. Other sources, however, list it only as 'table' so this can be stated categorically. Far from being a low table, this table was about twenty-seven inches high.
Later coffee tables were designed as low tables and this idea may have come from the Ottoman Empire, based on the tables in use in tea gardens. However, as the Anglo-Japanese style was popular in Britain throughout the 1870s and 1880s and low tables were common in Japan, this seems to be an equally likely source for the concept of a long low table.
From the late 19th century onwards, many coffee tables were subsequently made in earlier styles due to the popularity of revivalism, so it is quite possible to find Louis XVI style coffee tables or Georgian style coffee tables, but there seems to be no evidence of a table actually made as a coffee table before this time. Joseph Aronson writing in 1938 defines a coffee table as a, "Low wide table now used before a sofa or couch. There is no historical precedent...," suggesting that coffee tables were a late development in the history of furniture.
Also, the use of similar tables has been recorded in the ancient Greek era, following the Roman conquest of North-East Africa.
The idea of a table specifically used for serving hot drinks or putting down one's cup between sips predates the coffee table in Europe by some time. In Britain in 1750 tea drinking was at the height of fashion and there was increasing demand for tea tables. There were pillar and claw tripod tea tables with a round top that were later hinged and were taller than present day coffee tables. There were also examples of tea or china tables that were rectangular. Other forms of tables in use at this time which could be placed near to a sofa were called occasional tables, end tables, and centre tables.
High backed settees used in the latter part of the 17th century and the early part of the 18th century were gradually replaced by low back sofas around about 1780 and these sofas were sometimes used in conjunction with sofa tables. Sofa tables were designed to stand at the back of the sofa, a development that had been made feasible by the lower back. They might have a candle on them and could be used to put down a book or a cup of tea or coffee between sips. All of these tables to some extent could be considered to be the predecessors of the modern coffee table.
The first wooden tables, in Britain, specifically designed as and called coffee tables, were made during the late Victorian era. There is a table designed by E.W. Godwin in 1868 and made in large numbers by William Watt and Collinson and Lock which is listed as a coffee table in 'Victorian Furniture' by R. W. Symonds & B. B. Whineray and also in 'The Country Life book of English Furniture' by Edward T. Joy. If this was indeed called a coffee table at the time, it may be one of the first examples of a coffee table made in Europe. Other sources, however, merely list it as a table so it is hard to be sure. What is notable about this table is that it is not a low table at all, but is actually about 27 inches high.
E. W. Godwin's influence can be seen in the furniture of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and it is quoted in several books about furniture that there are known examples of coffee tables made by it's proponents although no specific examples are given. But as Arts and Crafts furniture generally favoured an emphasis on the vertical components, they would have been unlikely to design a long low coffee table so it is probable that this design feature of coffee tables is a later one. There are, for instance, Art Nouveau coffee tables which are low tables. This idea may have been introduced from the Ottoman Empire, based on the tables in use in tea gardens, but it is worth noting that countries such as India and Japan also had the tradition of eating and drinking at low level and consequently used low tables. Japanese influences on English furniture design were reflected in the Anglo-Japanese style which was hugely popular throughout the 1870's and 1880's and so Japan is much more likely to be the source for the idea of a long low table.
It would appear that there are no known examples of coffee tables made before the mid to late 19th century. The fondness of furniture manufacturers for revivalism, from Victorian times onwards, confuses this issue as one can find examples of coffee tables in styles that would suggest erroneously that they were made at an earlier date. A web search of antique dealers will reveal numerous examples of, for instance, Louis XVI style or Georgian style coffee tables but not authentic coffee tables from those periods.
Another relevent factor is that, in the 20th century when coffee tables became increasingly popular, it was not unknown for the legs of tables, even antique tables, to be shortened to make a coffee table. This could falsely create the idea that coffee tables had originated at the earlier date that the table had been made. Documents from the 17th and 18th century do not yield any mention of coffee tables. A search of Samuel Pepys Diary, (1633-1703), for instance reveals hundreds of references to the coffee house and to tables of various kinds but no reference to coffee tables. Nor can one find an example of a coffee table design in the pattern books of Thomas Sheraton or George Hepplewhite.
There is an interesting picture painted in 1760 of Marie Antoinette, (1775-1793), in which her sister Marie-Therese is serving coffee to her husband in front of the fire (above right). It is interesting in that, although she is serving coffee, the table is a pillar and claw tripod table of the type which, often with the addition of a hinged top, would have been known as a tea table.
Joseph Aronson defines a coffee table in 1938 as, "Low wide table now used before a sofa or couch." He adds, "There is no historical precedent......
(PICTURE FOR DISPLAY ONLY)
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