A GEORGE III WEST INDIAN SATINWOOD DRUM TABLE WITH VERY FINE QUALITY ENGRAVED INLAY INCLUDING DEPICTIONS OF ASTROLOGICAL SYMBOLS POSSIBLY AFTER ENGRAVINGS OF EBENEZER SIBLY (1751–C.1799) English. Late Eighteenth Century. Measurements: Diameter: 38 1/2″ (98 cm) Height: 29 1/8″ (74 cm).
Of West Indian satinwood. The circular top centered by an old but not original green leather inset. The border inlaid with overlapping continuous wreath of inlaid laurel leafs and harebell interspersed with finely drawn inlaid signs of the zodiac. The frieze set with four dummy and four actual drawers each centered by an oval patera flanked by scrolling foliate spray. The base with solid satinwood urn shaped stem from which issues three outswept legs, each inlaid with pendant harebells to the leading face. The legs interspersed by a rectangular panel centered by an inlaid classical vase. The whole raised of three square capped casters each with a replaced brass wheel. Internal circular holes to back of drawers probably due to method of bowed construction.
Old distinguished US private collection
This very fine quality West Indian satinwood drum table is distinguished by the use of astrological symbols of the zodiac. The drawing of these symbols relates to engravings of a Heliocentric Universe by Ebenezer Sibly (1751–c. 1799) from his A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Science (figure 1). Sibly was a fascinating late eighteenth century figure whose publication of the Natal Horoscope of America in 1787 is still cited to this day. He studied medicine and surgery but he is most famed for his writing in the field of the occult and astrology. He also studied the work of Anton Mesmer, joining his Harmonic Philosophical School.
The second half of the eighteenth century saw an explosion of inquiry into science and the metaphysical, and it is extremely uncommon to find subject matter of this type as an adornment to furniture. However, there exists a Swiss table of similar date to the present piece that is inlaid with a selenographic diagram showing the phases of the moon (figure 2). A table like the present piece illustrates the sustained popular appeal of the celestial sciences and would likely have stood in an important study or library.
Drum tables, as they are more latterly known due to their likeness to the instrument, likely derive their design from eighteenth century rent tables. These also had a drum-shaped top (occasionally polygonal) and sometimes rested on a four sided cupboard base. The drawers on such tables were inlaid with lettering that referred to aspects of large country estate management including rents payable by farm tenants.
The refined elegance of the present table is further enhanced by the use of now beautifully patinated pale West Indian Satinwood. This timber was most expensive in the late eighteenth century. “Hispanola mahogany was fetching between 8d. and 10d. at this time,” while satinwood could go for 2-3 shillings per foot.”1 This precious material was invariably cut into veneers to be laid onto a much less expensive substrate. Here, however, lavish use is made of the wood as the central baluster stem is shaped from the solid.
It is interesting to note that this motif occurs again in the twentieth century and there have existed in the antique trade a small number of Edwardian examples of tables that employ zodiac symbols around the perimeter of their tops. Such high quality late nineteenth and early twentieth century furniture makers as Edwards and Roberts and Maple & Co. used late-eighteenth century prototypes to inspire their designs, satisfying the early twentieth century revival of interest in elegant late George III furniture design.
1. Bowett, Adam. Woods in British Furniture-Making, 1400-1900: An Illustrated Historical Dictionary. Wetherby: 4.
Oblong Creative, 2012. 219.