To a Square Walnut Table

In answering a comment in the previous post I listed the different forms that can be attributed to the Bartram family joiner.  They include tea tables, stands, oval tables, three drawer and single drawer dressing tables, tables without drawers, chests of drawers, chests over drawers, spice boxes, and spice boxes on frames.  All of these forms but one have been published, though some of the publications are auction catalogues not generally or easily available.  (I’ve provided images in this blog of some of the objects at auction and also construction details and images not available anywhere else.)

The one form not previously published is a table without drawers.


Black walnut table c. 1725.  Peter Wentz Farmstead.  Attributed to the Bartram family joiner.


Black walnut table c. 1725.  Peter Wentz Farmstead.  Attributed to the Bartram family joiner.


Black walnut table c. 1725.  Peter Wentz Farmstead.  Attributed to the Bartram family joiner.  Leg detail.

The table is part of the furnishings of the house museum at the Peter Wentz Farmstead, Landsdale, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles from Philadelphia.  Like most furniture made in the early eighteenth century, it came to the Farmstead with no provenance other the the name of its last owner.  It is relatively plain and uncomplicated but the turning profiles of the legs and stretchers have the distinctive design vocabulary of other objects attributed to this shop.  In  marketplace jargon this would be called a “farm table”, “tavern table”, or “work table” and most likely be given a rural attribution, far from Philadelphia.  But as we learn from John Head’s account book, joiners capable of fashioning the most up-to-date and expensive forms also supplied simpler, less costly objects when required.

This table though is far from the plainest tables being produced at the time.  While there is no drawer, the legs, and most especially the stretchers, did not need to be decoratively turned for the the table to serve its function.


Comparison of the Wentz Farmstead table leg and a leg from a single drawer table attributed to the Bartram family joiner.


The turned feet of the Wentz Farmstead table are missing. They would have looked like the foot shown here from the single drawer table shown in the previous slide.

The kitchens of rural farm houses  certainly needed “farm” and “work” tables but so did townhouses in cities.  John Head had a separate 18 by 9 foot two-story kitchen behind his house that required a table for food preparation.  Might he have made a table such as this in his own style for his family’s  use?

We know that in 1735 Head sold a “a Square walnut Table” to James Steel for which Steel was debited one pound.  It is easy to imagine that it closely resembled the Wentz Farmstead table.  (“Square” tables in the eighteenth century had rectangular tops.  The use of the term  “square” was to differentiate a table with a sawn rectangular top from one with a round or turned top.)

steel square table spice box.crop


9 thoughts on “To a Square Walnut Table

  1. Hi, do you know if this table is very tall (even without its feet), or if that is an exceptionally short chair next to it? Either way it must have been difficult to sit at due to those very deep rails.

    • The table is normal height, with the missing feet it is 30-31 inches high. The chair in the photo is on the small side and has also has losses to its feet. You’re right, it would be difficult to sit around this table. However, I don’t believe this type of table would have been used for dining but rather as a work table for food preparation that you would stand around. Contemporary oval tables of various sizes were designed and used for sit down meals.

  2. “Square” tables in the eighteenth century had rectangular tops.
    Not all though, I just purchased a “square” table with a side hung drawer at the Vogel sale, the frame is exactly 33-5/8″ X 33-5/8″ square with a hi-lo stretcher base. The top is replaced.

    • Well, yes, tables with square tops were made. I wanted to say that you will not find “rectangular” used to describe what we today call rectangular tops, they were called “square”. This helps in understanding 18th century documents. If you were looking at a table with a rectangular top that you think might be a table in a period document – an inventory, etc – and the document calls it a “square table”, you should not discount it, the “rectangular” top table could very well be the on called “square” in the document.

  3. That’s a beautiful table!! Having a barnes treadle lathe it’s not lost on me the work that went into the tables construction. Any thoughts on what was powering the lathe in the 1725 workshop. Spring pole, water wheel ,ect. Enjoy reading you’re blog.

  4. This turner produced high quality work. The surviving tool marks suggest turnings from this shop were not produced on a reciprocating spring pole lathe. A treadle lathe is a possibility, but it is more likely a Great Wheel Lathe was used. The wheel would have been turned by an apprentice or journeyman.
    Thanks for reading!

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