Universal Table

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Universal Table. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.Artist/Maker: Samuel Titt or Tilt

Created: 1790

Origin/Purchase: London

Materials: mahogany; oak

Dimensions: 68.6 x 91.4 x 75 (27 x 36 x 29 1/2 in.)

Location: Parlor

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Thomas Jefferson Randolph; by gift from a descendant of Thomas Jefferson Randolph to Mrs. Barton Hall; by descent to Charlotte Noland; by gift to Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1961

Accession Number: 1961-23

Historical Notes: On his way home in November 1789, for what he thought was a brief visit, Jefferson's interest was piqued by a novel, multi-purpose table that he saw aboard the ship Clermont. The table had two sliding leaves that when opened, doubled the area of the top. With the understanding that the finished tables would be shipped to him in Paris, Jefferson asked the ship's captain, Nathaniel Colley, to obtain two such tables for him in London.[1]

When Captain Colley learned that Jefferson had been appointed Secretary of State by President Washington, he delayed placing an order for the tables, not knowing where they should be shipped or if Jefferson would still want them. When Jefferson had not heard from Colley for nine months, he renewed his request for the tables.

From Norfolk in September 1790, Captain Colley informed Jefferson that he had received his memorandum and would proceed at once.

I Did not Get the Tables made when in London last As Mr. Cutting informed me you did not Return to France again and I thought they might attend with trouble transporting them there and back. . . . But you may Depend on my Bringing them when I return and will Send them to Philadelphia Imeadeatly.[2]

In January 1791, Captain Colley reported that the tables had been shipped. They arrived in Norfolk on Captain Anderson's ship Isabella on January 21, 1791.[3]

Your Tables which I had made in London for you Which I hope will meet your Approbation, as I made it a point to find out the Mr. Titt you Recommended me to, he has Remov'd from Cheapside to Hatten Garden. I think that they are well made but he has charged too high a price for them.[4]

Colley enclosed an invoice from Titt, London, dated November 25, 1790, for £6 6s. for "a fine Solid Mahagony Secret flap Table Taper feet fluted and Therm'd" and £3 18s. for the smaller one.[5]

The idea of a "Secret Flap Table" achieved some popularity among London cabinetmakers. A similar design, called a "Universal Table," was illustrated and described in Thomas Sheraton's The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book, published in November 1791. Sheraton wrote that the table could serve both as a breakfast and dining table. Jefferson may have used his tables for dining, writing, or drawing; only the larger of the two tables has been located. It has a front drawer with a felt-lined slider and various sized compartments, and fluted and tapered legs, terminating in spade feet on casters.

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 260

Footnotes

  • 1. Thomas Jefferson, "Mem. to Capt. Colley to have made in London for Th.J," on board the Clermont, November 16, 1789, in PTJ, 15:546. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 2. Nathaniel Colley to Jefferson, Norfolk, September 5, 1790, in PTJ, 17:488. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 3. Bill of lading, January 21, 1791, in PTJ, 19:592n.
  • 4. Colley to Jefferson, January 22, 1791, in PTJ, 19:591. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 5. Account of Samuel Titt, November 25, 1790, in PTJ, 19:592n.

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