Q: I am wondering if you can help me with information about a card table my wife inherited from her great-aunt. It has been in the family for many years. As you can see from the photos, the tabletop is hinged. It opens up to card table size and then can be spun around to accommodate four people at the table. Under one side of the top there is a space that looks like it was meant to store cards/games, etc.
A: Card and game tables have been around for a long time. It has been speculated that the first were just boards placed on top of low chests to facilitate playing games like backgammon, chess, draughts (checkers) and dice. Playing cards did not come into vogue until the Elizabethan era. Card tables began to appear in English and American homes after the Queen Anne period (1702-1714).
By the late 18th and early 19th century, card tables were quite common in American and British homes. Some were quite elaborate, with intricate inlay and extravagantly carved features such as richly embellished legs and pedestals. Some card tables can be quite valuable. But what about the one in today’s question? How old is it and what are its origins?
First, let us say that the wood is walnut. It has attractive drop pendants on the corners that are echoed in the four feet that support the pedestal base. The pedestal itself is nicely turned and is vasiform with some nice ring embellishments. It’s nice, but not the sort of thing that wows a collector.
The card table is probably American, but it has two things that have significant negative impact on both its monetary value and interest on the current antiques market. The first problem is the sweet little card table has been refinished to within an inch of its life. It is what an old antiques dealer we used to know called “slick as a ribbon.”
Some might say all the old has been rubbed off, leaving behind a piece of furniture that does not show the beautiful patina of its age. Refinishing can be done respectfully and carefully to leave behind a surface that is clean and refreshed, not sanded down and stripped of life and history.
But as sad as the refinished state of the card table is, its bigger problem is it is Victorian and probably dates to the third quarter of the 19th century. Unless a Victorian piece of furniture has a great deal of pizazz or was made by a famous maker, this sort of furniture is suffering on the current market and anonymous pieces often go begging.
Still, we feel if the card table were offered for sale in a good Midwestern auction, it would probably bring in somewhere in the $175 to $225 range and retail around $450.
Q: My aunt, who was an avid collector, left us what she called a “ring holder.” We have found no markings on the piece or on the base. We would be interested in any information you have.
A: This late Victorian piece has a great deal of cute going for it. The idea — we think — was that this was meant to suggest a dogcart with a flower decorated open umbrella or parasol. The real question here is whether it was meant to be a dressing table piece. Or was it designed to sit on a mantel or chest of drawers?
We want to start by discussing the origins of this piece. The porcelain used to make the dog appears to have been made in Germany — or perhaps in nearby Czechoslovakia, which at that time was called “Bohemia.”
The dog appears to be a pug with gilded bells on its red collar; unfortunately, over the years much of the gilding has been rubbed off. As we said before, the pug is made from porcelain, but it seems to be standing on a base that was made from some other material such as alabaster — but that may be just an optical illusion in the photographs and the base may be porcelain, as well.
The cart itself is made from iron wire and the dish shaped cranberry glass insert that makes up the rear of the cart is probably handblown with an edge that has been carefully ground and polished. The enameled flowers are very typically Bohemian, and the large posy in the center along with the crossing of the iron wire may hide where the pontil scar is located.
But what is the purpose of the large wire hook that is suspended over the dog’s back near his head? Your aunt thought it was to hold a ring; and yes, it could be used for this purpose, but we suspect that its original purpose was as a watch holder.
We are not sure of the size of this piece, but this whimsical item might have been designed to hold a lady’s watch during the hours when milady was sleeping or bathing. This device would have sat on her dressing table and the watch was probably contained in a small hunter case (a watch case with a hinged lid to protect the crystal).
If this watch keeper is larger than we suspect, it might have held a man’s watch and would have been kept on a dresser or perhaps on a mantel. A man interested in this sort of dog might have used such a watch keeper, but we really feel it was meant to be a charming accessory on a lady’s dressing table.
Ring trees are generally saucer shaped with a fingerlike spike in the middle that was designed to stand in for a finger when the ring was off its owner’s hand. If this watch holder is the size we imagine (and is in great condition), it should have an insurance value in the $225 to $325 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or e-mail them at treasuresknology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.