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Stone Inlaid Antique Table


#1

Hi Folks,

By way of quick introduction, I’m a gem-cutter (primarily cab and
baroque, but also some faceting) and jewelery-maker in Moncton, New
Brunswick, Canada. Having come to jewelery-making via stone, my stuff
tends to be fairly stone-focused. This is my first post to the
"orchid" list, and already it’s a bit of a singular one.

I’ve just been asked to refinish and repair the inlaid stone top of
an antique table. Not spectacularly familiar with antique furniture
myself, I’ll try to describe this object in the hope that someone on
the list/s may be able to offer informed speculation as to its age and
possible provenance, or maybe direct me to some internet resources for
antique identification.

The table comes from a wealthy plantation family of British descent
living in Jamaica. They were, among other things, friends with Erroll
Flynn, which suggests a milieu of art, and taste, perhaps even
indulgence.

It is a round table, about 32 inches in diameter. The top rests on a
central post of dark ornate wood (I believe it’s walnut) which
branches at the bottom into eagle claw feet carved in depth and
meticulous detail. At the top, walnut woodwork somewhat more than an
inch wide runs in a fluted rim around the central plate of stone.

Except for that walnut rim, the entire table top is tiled with stone
inlaid in four concentric bands of truncated wedges separated by
narrow spokes of black marble. Imagine a dart board. That’s the
geometry. It looks very much like the table top pictured here

http://www.ogallerie.com/2000-02/020762.jpg

except that the wedges of stone in “mine” run closer to the centre,
hence are smaller and more detailed. There are probably over 200
separate tapered tiles, the size of a playing card on the periphery,
and considerably smaller inward. A 2" disc of deep blue lapis
constitutes the bull’s eye at the centre. Among the the individual
tiles I’ve been able to identify are onyx, picture jasper, malachite,
and a variety of marbles, granites and other patterned stones. No
stones are dyed. All have deep, natural colour: these are high quality
stones. The care and understanding that went into their selection is
obvious.

The stone tiles are set into a slight depression carved or routered
into a round base plate of marble which has been cracked the full
diameter of the table. This in turn cracked the stone plates on top.
Stone plates in the vicinity of the crack are held in place with a
shiny black adhesive which I haven’t been able to identify yet. It may
be pitch. It appears to be a repair, since further away from the crack
the adhesive below the stones is a different one: tan coloured, like
kraft paper, and smelling like Canada balsam when it burns.

The look and feel of the thing, the depth of the wood carving, the
absence of any cut corners in workmanship, the quality and colour of
the stones, the precision of their fitting, suggest early to mid 19th
century work. It’s too “solid”, too low-key, too understated - I think

  • to be gothic-revival. While the marble sub-plate and the multitude
    of stones might suggest Italy, it does have a distinctly British feel
    to it.

Age and storage have taken their toll. The woodwork is damaged. It
has obviously been dropped, chipping the marble base plate at the
sides where it fell in addition the crack down the middle. Some 20
tiles are missing entirely, as are sections of the black marble spokes
between them.

I suggested that a new sub-base (1/2" plate glass or possibly
granite, either well roughened at the contact surface) be added to
support the cracked marble plate. Unfortunately, the woodworking
company (for whom I’ve been asked to do the stonework), had already
gone ahead and epoxied the marble back together. For my own part in
the work, I obviously want to repair everything both as authentically
as possible, and reversibly.

And now my questions. Has anyone on the lists seen anything similar?
Can you, from my description and link, offer any informed speculation
as to age and provenance? Might there have been, perhaps, one cabinet
making company which specialized in just this sort of work? Do you
know of any internet resources for antique identification I might be
able to consult?

On the more technical side, does anyone recognize the adhesives?
Might these in fact have been pitch and Canada balsam or something
similar? And if so, I imagine this would mean that the base plate had
been warmed and the tiles pressed into heat-softened cement?

Lots of questions! Any informed speculations or comments will be
gratefully welcomed, on or off list.

Cheers & thanks
Hans Durstling
Moncton, Canada


#2

My first thought (after Wow! I wish that was my table!) is to always
be wary of unknown adhesives. At a minimum, work outdoors, wear a
filter mask and protect your hands.

There is an adhesive that matches your description of the black
adhesive. It was widely used to install floor tiles. It contains
lots of asbestos.

Secondly, we are back to the value thing - it reduces the value of an
antique when you do major restoration or refinishing. However, at
some point the item is so badly damaged that it is actually junk, and
then repair actually increases its value.

I wish you luck, and let us see what it looks like when you have
finished.

D.Marie