I was recently asked if I was trying to corner the market for Thomas Day game tables? Why did I need four Thomas Day game tables? Obvious answers: too much time and money, no impulse control.
While true, it is not the whole truth.
Thomas Day was/is a compelling person. He was a third generation free man of color and the largest furniture maker in pre-Civil War North Carolina. And a slave owner. You can read an NPR article about him HERE.
I saw an alleged Thomas Day game table on eBay and watched the auction. Reasonably priced but shipping was high and I had no way of knowing if it actually was as claimed. Auction ended with no sale. I watched it on its next listing. And again on its third. I took time to read the listing and realized the table was located within five miles of my house.
I contacted the seller to see if the table was going to be offered again. He responded that he was done with eBay but there was a woman from South Carolina coming to take look at it. He said I was free to come look at it if I wanted. I wanted and scheduled a visit inviting my friend, Jerome Bias, to come view it with me.
We came, we saw, we were skeptical. The seller was quite insistent and knew all the right people in the collector community. We talked and turned the table every which way to look for evidence either way. In the end, Jerome’s skepticism lost to my desire to own. A price was negotiated and the table followed me home. The lady from South Carolina, if she existed, never made an appearance.
A few weeks later, I took the table to Martin O’Brien, a highly respected conservator of furniture in Winston-Salem. We stared and talked for a while. His belief is that there is very good chance it is a Thomas Day piece. Or he said that hoping that he could make this fairly large odd person go away.
I found the second table in Hudson, NC. I took lots of pictures and compared it to the first. There were more similarities than differences. I thought about it for a few weeks but finally gave in to the paranoia that it might be bought by someone who didn’t realize what it might be. I drove back to Hudson and acquired it. The dealer was having a sale. I paid substantially less for this one than the first. The first wasn’t that expensive to begin with.
Jerome told me about the third one at a Greensboro antiques mall. I picked it up while driving back from Martin O’Brien’s shop. I was there to allow him to examine the second table. We decided the second was likely a Day piece. The mall gave me 15% off for paying cash for the third. I paid less for the third one than the second.
The fourth one was at a large antiques mall in Burlington. Again, many of the same features as the first three. The dealer had marked it down so, once again, I paid less than for the third.
I own these four with the intent of offering them up for study. I would like to work with a group or museum to offer the chance to study them with other known pieces of Day furniture. See the evolution of design and construction, techniques and materials. A chance to learn more about early 19th century furniture.
Eventually, I want to find a home for the tables. Give others a chance to see and study them. They need to go. Eventually. We have a large house but it’s not infinitely large. I have no intention of becoming a Thomas Day hoarder.
One thing I have learned is that Mr. Day’s method of foot attachment is subject to failure. He makes a load bearing joint from an end-grain to end-grain glue joint reinforced with a single dowel.
This failure is seen on most of the tables:
On the other hand, the tables have survived for over 150 years. How long should a joint last to be considered a success?