As we discussed before in our article about chests of drawers it is important to be systematic when analyising an antique tripod.

The rarest type of antique tripod table is the piecrust so called because of its shaped carved edge.

A rare Chippendale period mahogany tripod table with a piecrust table.

These were already so desirable in the late 19th Century that they were adapting plain Georgian examples. To ensure the top is original make sure it is not too thin or that wood has been added round the edge to take the carved detail. Other tables will have dished tops which are more sophisticated than tables with plain circular tops. If you measure an old tripod table's top it should never be a pure circle, it should be a slight oval and this is due to the shrinkage that naturally occurrs over the years. All good quality tables will have a once piece top only inferior or rustic examples will have tops constructed from two pieces or more.

The stem of a tripod table can be very plain and as they become more sophisticated they will have different turned and carved details. The most common detail will be a ring turning or a vase shaped stem, sometimes this vase will be carved with a spiral turning and this is called a wrythen turned stem.

A Chippendale period kettlestand with a wrythen turned stem.

The legs of the tripod table join the stem via tenon joints, when you look underneath this area should be flat and frequently it is reinforced with a metal bracket. Fine examples of a tripod table will have an elegantly drawn leg, in the George II/ early George III this is usually a cabriole leg which teminates in a pad foot. Finer examples will have a generous pad foot which is carved in the shape of a claw and ball foot or for early Chippendale examples with a French scroll toe.

Detail showing a carved claw and ball foot.

In the Sheraton period the umbrella base and Regency examples often have a scrolling leg.

The most important part of the table when determining originality is to examine the joint between the top and the base. The plainest examples will have a block under the top that receives the stem. Better examples will have a tilt-top, here it is important to check the bearers, the catch and the area where the block hits the top. There should be no screw holes which do not relate to anything else, this suggests the beares could have been moved, similarly the catch could have been moved. Where the block hits the top there should be a mark which corresponds exactly in size and shape.

Detail showing the wear underneath a tilt-top.

There should also be rubbing marks on the bearers from the action of the table opening and closing. The rarest type of joint between top and base is the bird cage mechanism which not allows the top to tilt but rotate as well.

Detail showing a bird cage mechanism

When considering the value of a tripod table obvious damage such as broken legs will of course have a bearing and marriages (where the top and bottom are not original to one another) should be avoided.

To view a selection of fine antique tripod tables please visit our website at


November 04, 2009 — Peter Alexander