Writing Table thumbnail 1
Writing Table thumbnail 2
+14
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery

This object consists of 2 parts, some of which may be located elsewhere.

Writing Table

ca. 1750-60 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This ingenious table allows the user to choose one of two surfaces, either for playing cards or for writing. When the writing surface is open, the user has access to a hidden nest of drawers, which pop up suddenly on springs, when a catch is released. It was made in Neuwied in Germany in about 1750-60 by Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793), a cabinet-maker who had spent some time in London in the 1730s, where such mechanical tables were first made. In London he also practised the technique of inlaying engraved brass plaques into furniture. For this table, he has based his central plaque on a figure of ‘Winter’, from an engraving by Gottfried Bernhard Göz (1708-1774), who was a fellow member of the Moravian Church, of which Roentgen was an active member. Roentgen became one of Germany’s best-known cabinet-makers and his son David, who carried on his workshop, became celebrated throughout Europe, selling in Paris and to the Empress Catherine the Great in St Petersburg.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Writing and Card Table With Mechanical Action
  • Key
Materials and Techniques
Cherry, in the solid with carved decoration and veneered on a carcase of pine, oak and beech, with additional veneers of padouk and repairs in mahogany
Brief Description
Writing and card table with mechanical, 'harlequin' action revealing a nest of drawers, in cherry and other wood with inlay of brass, German, c. 1750-60, by Abraham Roentgen
Physical Description
Writing and card table in solid and veneered cherry, of gate-leg form, with serpentine outline and cabriole legs, the lower edge of the deep carcase carved with rococo motifs in imitation of gilt-bronze mounts, the top of the table inlaid with engraved brass plaques. The triple-flapped top opens firstly to show a baize surface for cards and secondly to show a leather-lined writing surface, behind which is a fitted reading stand mounted on a nest of drawers which rises on springs when a catch is released.



Design

The four cabriole legs are in solid cherry, carved at the knees with rococo motifs. The front and the sides are veneered in cherry with the grain set vertically, cut to show a wave-like figure, with three sheets on the front and two on each side. This vertical setting allows the veneer to follow more easily the serpentine outline of the table. The lower edge of all sides are set with applied sections of solid cherry, which are carved with rococo motifs, running without interruption into the carving on the legs. An oval keyhole escutcheon in brass is set on the centre of the front.



The top surface of the closed table is veneered with two sheets of cherry veneer, set so that each centres on an oval section of grain. A single stringing line of brass is inlaid round the outer edge of the top, interrupted at the corners and centre front and back with engraved brass plaques in the form of rococo shell/leaf motifs, with smaller motifs at the mid-point between these. The centre of the top is set with an engraved brass plaque of irregular form, showing a seated woman in a fur-trimmed cape and wearing a bonnet, representing ‘Winter’. This is based on an engraving of Winter, in a series of the Four Seasons, by Gottfried Bernhard Göz (1708-1774), and Augsburg engraver. The edges of all three tops are lipped in cherry, set cross-grained, and with the edges rounded.



The top flap opens to show a baize-covered playing surface, the edges, circular corner panels for candlesticks and four asymmetrically placed, inset, dished sections for counters, all veneered in cherry, set longitudinally. The two flaps are inset with green baize (replacement) with stamped edges.



The underside of the top flap is lined with green Russia leather (replaced in the early nineteenth century), with blind lining and beading stamped on the edges. This leather continues onto the fixed top for approximately 9 cm and the framing motifs are worked on this also. The leather is inset into a frame of cross-banded cherry veneer.



On the lowest, fixed, top, the outer frame is laid with cherry veneer running laterally around a trio of recesses set with a central book-rest.



This is in fact the top level of a rectangular nest of drawers, which rises on springs set in the case beneath (see below). It is released by a small metal catch, set in a semi-circular recess cut out just to the front of the nest in the centre of the table. The two lowest top panels are held together at each side by a brass latch, to resist what could be the pressure of the nest under the middle flap if the catch fails. The nest is of oak, veneered and faced with cherry, the front set with drawers veneered on the fronts with red-stained cherry, the grain set vertically, with a small ring handle to each in brass. Two tiers of four drawers flank a central section with two double-width drawers below and, above, an oak-lined trio of pigeonholes, the central one wider than the other two. This is set with a thin, oak shelf which can be adjusted in height in ladder-racks cut in the side of the compartment. The top of each of the pigeonholes is set with an arched cornice faced with red-stained cherry veneer (the righ-hand one replaced in mahogany), these acting as glue blocks that strengthen the oak divisions, which are cut into angled grooves on the carcase.



The top section of the nest is fitted with two outer compartments with pintle-hinged lids, flanking a compartment which is fitted with a book-rest supported on an easel. The lids are veneered in cherry with cross-banding in mahogany. The right-hand one is lined with cherry with a vertical division creating a narrow front compartment, the centre of which is set with a block of cherry cut with an oval dished recess, painted black. The left-hand compartment is similarly lined, the front sections set with a long, oval pen-tray cut from a single block of cherry and hung across the compartment, leaving a shallow recess beneath. The central section is lined with cherry veneer, the sides set with ratchets, into which the base of a simple easel engages, raising the book rest, the upper and lower surfaces of the oak easel veneered in cherry, with rococo scrolls in padouk inlaid at each corner, the easel section veneered on the upper and lower surfaces in padouk.



The gate-leg section is veneered on the inside, as is the outside of the back rail of the table which is visible when the table is open. The rail of the gate-leg section is set at the top with a hinged tab (veneered on the visible surface) which can be set up to support the top when only one flap is open, to the card surface, to allow for the extra height required to keep the table level.



Construction

The table is constructed with continuous uprights which continue from the legs to form the stiles of the deep carcase, into which the deep front, back and side rails are jointed, either with tenons or a tongue set in a groove (X-ray investigation would be required to establish this and also the exact jointing of the lowest, fixed top panel, which is probably pegged to the top of the frame). The other two top panels are hinged to this at the side with brass card-table hinges.



The base of the carcase is made with two boards of stained beech, approximately 1 cm thick, set to either side of the centre. These are pierced all over with holes, approximately 2 cm in diameter (this prevents the formation of a vacuum when the spring-loaded nest is pushed down). The two base boards are set into rebates cut in the thick sides, front and back and into rebates cut into the inner side of the back legs, and are nailed up. Two asymmetrically placed reinforcing struts of stained beech, chamfered on all edges, are set laterally and fixed with screws and nuts to two long, steel springs, which lie between the pierced boards and the underside of the nest, and control its movement.



The two upper top panels are of cleated construction, with pine boards running laterally between side cleats of oak, thickly veneered with cherry and lipped as described above. This can be seen in the first opening (showing baize for cards, with dished areas for counters, where the two dished areas on the long sides show pine in the centre, while the two on the short sides show oak in the centre, all four showing the depth of the veneer in the chamfered edge.



The lowest, fixed top panel is of framed construction, presumably of oak, the side rails tenoned between the front and back, the space which would normally be filled with a panel forming the frame for the spring-loaded nest of drawers.



The right back leg opens as a gate-leg, hinged at the centre with a metal hinge, the plates of which are inset into the deep rail of the gate-leg section and the deep back rail of the table, so that only the knuckle shows. The gate-leg is set with an iron catch on the inside of the leg at the lower edge of the rail and this engages with a spring catch set on the underside of the back left corner of the base board of the table, released by a button.



The small drawers of the nest are probably in oak, but can only be released when conservation work is done.



The construction of the nest is impossible to determine fully without its removal and X-ray analysis. The back is of frame and panel construction, the panels edged with narrow, plain beadings. The sides appear to be each of a single board of cherry, with a broad recess cut in the outer side down the centre, in which a separate section of wood is set, the lower edge slightly sprung, so that when the nest is fully out, the lower edge of these elements serve to prevent it falling back. They must be depressed to allow the nest to be replaced. The tops of the sides are cleated with cherry. The back, sides and the front rail, which is only the depth of the upper section, are mitred at the corners and may be joined with mitred dovetails. The vertical rails which divide the top section into three are mitred into the front and back rails. If this is the construction, the base of the upper section must be tenoned into the sides and set into rebates in the back and the base of the front rail. The drawer dividers and dust-boards of the nest must be located in grooves cut in the sides, back, base and top of the nest. From the underside, through the holes in the base boards, it is possible to see that the base of the nest is of stained beech, the boards running laterally and reinforced on the edges with extra fillets of wood and with four iron plates, which extend beyond the edges and serve as stops, working against the frame of the top.





Repairs and alterations

The sprung section in the centre of the right side of the nest has been replaced in mahogany. There are minor repairs to veneers and the central oval at the back of the top may be a replacement.The legs are fitted underneath with shallow brass domes.
Dimensions
  • Partially open height: 81cm
  • Width: c75cm
  • Depth: 73-75cm
Measured by LW and NH, dimensions as will be displayed in M&T
Style
Gallery Label
  • [Label text by Peter Thornton] Writing and card table German (Neuwied); about 1755 Cherrywood with brass inlay. When the second leaf is opened onto the gate-leg at the back, a harlequin nest of drawers springs up Several more or less elaborate versions of this particular form of table were made in the 1750s and 60s by Abraham Roentgen, who had worked for various prominent cabinet-makers in London during the 1730s and finally settled in Neuwied in 1750. This piece embodies several English features and is an early example of the type. Museum No. W.2-1966(1980)
  • Writing and Card Table 1745–55 Abraham Roentgen (1711–93) Germany (Neuwied) Made in the workshop of Abraham Roentgen Cherry, carved and veneered Carcase: pine, oak and beech Additional veneers: padouk Plaques: engraved brass Surfaces (replaced): leather and baize Restraining hook (added): cast iron Museum no. W.2-1966 This table is typical of Abraham Roentgen’s ‘English’ style furniture. Instead of the imported mahogany that would probably have been used in England, it features German cherry wood. It has brass inlay decoration and an ingenious mechanism. The triple-flapped top can be configured for playing cards or writing. A sprung catch releases a hidden nest of drawers.(01/12/2012)
Object history
This table was sold at Sotheby's, London, 3 July 1962, lot 160 as 'The Property of a Lady' for £480. The details of the figure of the wood identify the piece. The table was purchased by the V&A from Gerald Kenyon, Fine Art & Antiques, Chester, for £1700. Kenyons also had a branch in Dublin. Desmond Fitzgerald noted that the table had 'recently appeared on the market in Dublin'. RF 66/627



The table is of a pattern made frequently by Abraham Roentgen's workshop, with varieties of decoration.



A table of about 1760-65 in the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin (inv. no. 1979,93) shows more decorative trellis marquetry and marquetry in mother-of-pearl. See Franz Adrian Dreier, 'Klapptisch von Abraham Roentgen. Über eine Neuerwerbung des Kunstgewerbesmuseums Berlin'. Kunst und Antiquitätan, III, 1980, pp. 51-53.



The engraving of 'Winter' is based on one of a set of 'Four Seasons' by Gottfried Bernhard Göz, a Moravian painter and engraver (1708 - 1774), who worked in the Rococo style. He settled in Augsburg in 1730, becoming a master engraver in 1733. In 1737 he set up an engraving business with the Klauber family, later setting up independently. In 1744 he was appointed Imperial Court Painter, Engraver and Publisher to Charles VII. Augsburg was the print capital of Europe and produced thousands of prints that were sold in their own right and also served as models for creators of decorative arts. The V&A owns a copy of the 'Winter' engraving (Museum no. 24690:4), which is dated to the period 1750-1765. Roentgen would have used it as a fashionable image, but it is interesting to compare the rococo cartouche on the table with that in the engraving. Roentgen modified the details to suit his own purposes.
Historical context
This is one of a group of such tables made by Abraham Roentgen in the 1750s, when he was newly established in Neuwied. The mechanism is related to tables illustrated in a page of engraved illustrations of furniture published in London in about 1735-40 and signed Potter (V&A, Museum no. E.2320-89). This was published in Christopher Gilbert and Tessa Murdoch, eds., John Channon and brass-inlaid furniture 1730-60, fig. 11, p. 19. Abraham Roentgen spent some time in London between about 1733 and 1738 and probably learnt such new designs there.Certainly, a cabinet-maker with whom he had close association in London, Frederick Hintz, was noted for making furniture with brass inlay (Gilbert and Murdoch, eds., p. 21). By 1750, tables with three flaps, for use for dining and card playing, were listed as one of the acceptable pieces to be offered by furniture makers wanting to be accepted in the trade guild of Wrights and Coopers in Aberdeen (see Janet Brinsden, 'Furniture Makers in Eighteenth-Century Aberdeen', in Regional Furniture, vol. XVIII (2004), pp. 30-48, p. 37).



This table is very close to one illustrated by Hans Huth, Abraham und David Roentgen, Möbel für Europa, Starnberg, Josef Keller Verlag, 1980, vol. 2, pp. 45-56, figs. 67-97, illustrates a number of the pattern, with varying qualities of decoration. The closest to the V&A table is one shown in fig.76, from the author's own collection, which is similarly entirely decorated with carving on the lower edge of the carcase, although the details of the carving are different from that on the V&A one, with the feet carved as scrolls and foliage, rather than masks. Other tables in the group are mounted with gilt-bronze, either with or without elaborate trellised marquetry in tropical woods and inlay of engraved ivory or mother-of-pearl. Huth dates the V&A table to 1755-8. Huth, vol. 1, p. 61, publishes a drawing of this form of table, showing its construction. Huth had earlier published on these tables in an article in Connoisseur, August 1933.........



The use of cherry veneer and carved decoration imitating gilt bronze may indicate an early date, before Roentgen could afford the more expensive, imported materials that he used on some of the tables, or the deliberate creation of a version of such tables for clients of more middling class.



Production
The design of this piece, and the use of cherrywood and brass inlay, are typical of Roentgen's work.
Subject depicted
Summary
This ingenious table allows the user to choose one of two surfaces, either for playing cards or for writing. When the writing surface is open, the user has access to a hidden nest of drawers, which pop up suddenly on springs, when a catch is released. It was made in Neuwied in Germany in about 1750-60 by Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793), a cabinet-maker who had spent some time in London in the 1730s, where such mechanical tables were first made. In London he also practised the technique of inlaying engraved brass plaques into furniture. For this table, he has based his central plaque on a figure of ‘Winter’, from an engraving by Gottfried Bernhard Göz (1708-1774), who was a fellow member of the Moravian Church, of which Roentgen was an active member. Roentgen became one of Germany’s best-known cabinet-makers and his son David, who carried on his workshop, became celebrated throughout Europe, selling in Paris and to the Empress Catherine the Great in St Petersburg.
Bibliographic References
  • Thornton, Peter and Desmond Fitzgerald, 'Abraham Roentgen "englische Kabinettmacher" and some further reflections on the work of John Channon', in Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin October 1966, vol. II, no. 4 pp.137-147.
  • Fabian, Dietrich, Abraham Roentgen als Schnitzer. Bad Neustadt, International Akademie für Kulturwissenschaften, 1994, pp. 1-13, figs.7.8,9.
  • Illustrated in Casa d'Oro No. 67, 16 February 1966,p. 531.
  • Gilbert, Christopher and Murdoch, Tessa eds., John Channon and brass-inlaid furniture 1730-1760. New Haven and London, Yale University Press, in association with Leeds City Art Galleries and the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1993. ISBN 0-300-05812-8, fig. 18, p.156
  • Dreier Adrian, 'Klapptish von Abraham Roentgen', in Kunst und Antiquitäten, III/80, pp. 51-3.
  • Huth, Hans, Roentgen Furniture. Abraham and David Roentgen: European Cabinet-makers. London and New York, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1974. ISBN 0 85667 003 0, fig. 119.
  • Hans Huth, Abraham und David Roentgen, Möbel für Europa, Starnberg, Josef Keller Verlag, 1980, vol. 2, pp. 46-8, figs. 77-81.
  • Josef Maria Greber, Abraham und David Roentgen, Möbel für Europa. Starnberg, Josef Keller Verlag, 1980, Band 2, figs. 77-79, pp. 46-7. ISBN 3-7808-0126-4.
  • James Stuart, 'Letter from London. More Museum Conservation', in Antiques Magazine, N.Y., February 1968, vol. XCIII, no. 2, p. 190 (not illustrated)
Collection
Accession Number
W.2:1,2-1966

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record createdNovember 27, 2001
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