Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hepplewhite Work Table

My wife and I both enjoy visiting historic houses, museums and good antiques shops. Years ago it was a different era in the antiques business, and it was normal to find quality antiques dealers who owned independent shops and specialized in various fields in the business. When we travelled to the East coast together, it was always a pleasant and exciting afternoon to stop in on David Stockwell, or Albert Sack or Benjamin Ginsburg, or any number of established dealers and spend time discovering treasures from the past.

What I miss most from that time is the expertise these dealers passed on when discussing their collection. For example, I remember Carl Yeakel, a dealer in Laguna beach, who was still at work after more than 50 years in business, even though he was suffering from advanced Parkinson's disease. He was excited to show us both the mark on the bottom of a very large and valuable Chinese porcelain bowl, and insisted on lifting it up off the table for us to see. As he held it in the air, shaking all the time, we held our breath. I appreciate his desire to share his experience with us, and I remember that mark and the quality of the porcelain still today.

Most of those old school dealers are gone these days. The antiques market changed during the past decades and the "antiques" shops these days are filled with flea market finds, garage sale left overs and odd lots of miscellaneous collectibles. It is rare to find any shop where the owner knows his inventory, and there is no real educational value to be found in the pastime of antiquing. You must bring your own expertise with you and rely on your own knowledge.

In this sense, it is an advantage for some collectors who suffer through the hours spent walking the isles of clutter that fills these shops today. It is sad but my wife and I no longer look forward to spending the afternoon visiting these shops.

However, one day, several years ago, when we were driving to Los Angeles to visit friends I had the impulse to stop in Carlsbad and see what had become of a shop that I used to enjoy. Actually, I needed to use the restroom. I was disappointed to note that my favorite shop was now an "antiques mall" which is code for "junk." Since I had to use the facilities anyway, I went in and quickly walked to the back of the store, glancing from side to side at the individual booths of stuff.

Suddenly, out of the blue, I was struck by lightening. My heart stopped. I spotted an English Hepplewhite work table, with original finish, surrounded by roller skates, frying pans, dolls and supporting a cheap vase filled with plastic flowers. It had a price tag of $150. I had to go into the bathroom and wait until my hands stopped shaking and my heart rate dropped below 100.

When I came out, I tried to casually walk up to the counter and ask about the table. The clerk said it had been there for months and that they were just discussing the possibility of sending it out for refinishing so it would be more attractive. I said, " That's not necessary. I will take it 'as is'."

That table was spectacular. It had a large oval of satinwood on top, surrounded by purpleheart, boxwood inlay and tulip wood crossbanding. The workmanship was the highest quality. I had to make a copy immediately, and arranged to fly to Paris to select the materials I needed.

When I arrived at Patrick George's veneer shop outside Paris, I showed him photos of the satinwood panel on top. I knew it would be impossible to find the same kind of wood today, but I hoped he would have something with the same character. He just smiled at me and told me that he had some Cedar of Lebanon veneer which was sawn in England in 1850 that had never been sold. 4 pieces. I needed a piece 35cm x 67cm for the top and these pieces were 32cm x 74cm in size. They were also $2000. I bought them immediately.

I quickly sold the original table to a dealer in New York at a very handsome profit. I then made and sold the duplicate table at the same price, plus the $2000 I needed to pay for the veneer. It was an exciting project, and I learned a lot about the methods used during the 1780's in England which produced extremely elaborate furniture decoration with simple hand tools and animal protein glues.

Since I purchased 4 sheets of that fantastic veneer, I did make one change in the copy from the original. The original had a plain back; I decided to veneer the back so that the four sheets of historic veneer could continue to live together on the same piece of furniture.


Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Edwards.

Have You used plywood in the copy?
Is everything done with hammerveneerig?
Very nice piece!!!!


W. Patrick Edwards said...


When I made this piece I had a lot of good Honduras mahogany in stock. I made the entire piece from solid mahogany, including all the drawer parts, legs and case. In fact, I hand planed the top board down in thickness to 15mm. It was wonderful working in such a nice wood, and then I covered the entire surface with rich sawn veneers.

All the work was done with hot glue, hammer veneering and a cutting gauge.

Anonymous said...


From al the work i know from You, this is my favorite. I would love tho make a piece like this but hammer veneering is not my best thing, with hot sand and hot plates and obg i do not have problems,but i work from time to time with the hammer now and it works better now and faster, so mayby in the future? soon i will have contact with a oldtimer my father known and i hope he can give some advice.Mayby You will make a video of it in the future,that would be nice!!!
Thank You for your time

Filip (Belgium)