Q: Attached are photos of a tilt-top table I inherited. I have no information about its origins or what the decoration might be. There are no markings. Can you enlighten me?
A: This is one of those moments when we look at a series of photographs and get a little bug-eyed as we say, "Wow! This is truly unique." By this we mean that this table is a one of a kind and is decorated in a surprising fashion.
Interestingly, this table probably started out its life as a plain, early 20th-century reproduction of a mid- to late 18th-century English, mahogany, George III, tilt-top supper table. We suspect that originally this table's top was as flat and undecorated as a piece of blank paper.
Supper in the mid-18th century was a family affair and was sometimes served — at least in upscale households — on tilt-top supper tables that were stored with the top tilted up against a wall when not in use. The tops of the supper tables were often elaborately carved with fans, scrolls and floral decorations along with low galleried circular reserves around the outer edge.
The round reserves were clearly designed to hold plates on the table in a secure fashion. The reserves around the edge on the table in today's question, however, are not round but more the shape of a rounded baseball diamond, which would make this essentially useless as a supper table.
Instead, this table was meant for decoration and not for serious daily use. The baseball diamond-shaped reserves and the table's center have circular examples of pyrography, or decorative wood burning. This craft, also known as fire writing, was a popular hobby from the late 19th century into the 1920s, and we feel that the pyrographer may have carved the tabletop as well.
The carving itself is mostly shallow and lacking in professional skill or training, so we feel this is a wonderful piece of American folk art circa 1920. The quality of the artwork varies from the detailed to little more than sketchy. It is a shame that the piece is not signed by the artist because that would have enhanced the value considerably.
Still, this piece is very unusual and should be valued in the $1,000 to $1,500 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.