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An English [William IV] carved and burled walnut teapoy, circa 1840, octagonal hinged top opening to fitted interior with lidded tea compartments, mixing bowl not present, reeded vasiform pedestal, tripod cabriole legs.

While fads have come and gone over the years, many furniture forms have remained the same: nightstands, chests of drawers, wardrobes, but every now and then there is a form so specialized and so linked to the era in which it was used that it is now virtually alien in the modern age. The teapoy is one such form.

Teapoys came into being in the Georgian era, in the last half of the 1700s, as a tiny portable stand meant to hold an individual cup and saucer, acting almost like the modern folding tray or TV table. With a small circular or octagonal top on a central column with three feet, the table is thought to have drawn its name from “ti-n,” the Hindu word for three, and “pae,” the Persian word for foot, with “ti-n” quickly being transformed into “tea” because tea was what the form was used exclusively for. (The name is now commonly teapoy, but tepoy was also used historically.) Early versions were rather basic and plain in materials, but walnut, satinwood, and, of course, mahogany soon became the woods of choice. The style of the form also evolved, with both the legs and the column slimming down, but the top was traditionally octagonal.

After the Revolutionary War as the economy settled down, tea prices began to drop and tea became much more popular and widely available. In a short period of time, the modest boxes and cannisters that had held tea were too small for the volume of tea being purchased and tea caddies became popular. Tea was still considered precious though and kept under lock and key, because not only could it be stolen but it could also be “diluted” with “smouch,” a term that meant any filler or additives added to tea by crooked merchants – not unlike the way a modern drug dealer might stretch a product with the addition of baking soda or other household powders. Smouch, typically dried leaves from various trees, was most readily detected when added to unblended teas, so unblended tea became costly and, of course, a status symbol. The lady of the house would blend tea in front of the guests, thereby assuring them of the quality of the tea they would be consuming and thereby requiring bigger and bigger tea caddies, which were too bulky to carry in with the tea things on a tray.

Thus, enter the teapoy, which offered a fashionable, efficient way to keep the tea caddy close at hand for blending tea. But because the first teapoys were small stands with no applied, raised trim around the edges, tea caddies were perched on them rather precariously. By 1810, tea caddies and teapoys had united in one form, a true Regency teapoy, a small, elegant, readily portable piece of furniture, a tea caddy on a baluster/pillar base, that could remain at hand at all times. They were only in the finest homes and they would evolve in every possible direction of ornamentation – different shapes, veneers, expensive woods, painted scenes on the interior lids, ormolu mounts and more. (The one pictured above, from the William IV era, shows how they would change.)

Since this time, teapoy has begun to be misapplied to other forms, particularly candlestands and small side tables, sometimes even sewing stands. True early teapoys had octagonal tops, with only a few known circular exceptions. They also lacked the raised rim found on many tables of comparable size. Later teapoys are more easily identified by their compartments, obviously intended for tea. Today, their values can vary widely. Some of the more decorative examples have sarcophagus tops or other stepped designs that make them unsuitable for use as side tables, thus affecting their functionality and collectability, but fine examples can still fetch several thousand dollars.

An oil on canvas painting by Florence Thaw (student of Abbott Thayer), Portrait of Socialite; housed in a rare and important Stanford White frameStanford White (November 9, 1853 – June 25, 1906) was in his day best known for his Beaux-Arts work with the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, in which he was a partner, work which typifies what is thought of as the American Renaissance of art and design.

White’s family had no money, but were still well connected in the art world of New York in the 19th century, and through those connections, he began work as an assistant to Henry Hobson Richardson, who was perhaps the best-known architect in America at the time, and after several years with Richardson and an 18-month stint in Europe – and with no formal schooling, let alone training in architecture, White would return to New York and form his partnership with McKim and Mead.

In 1889, White would design what might be his best-known work, the Washington Square arch, but he would also design numerous iconic buildings, both in New York City and throughout the United States. In addition to his public buildings (such as the Boston Public Library), he also designed many of the finest private homes in America at the time, including the Fifth Avenue mansions of the Astors and the Vanderbilts, as well as private clubs throughout the city. Like many prominent architects, McKim, Mead & White also had a hand in the interior furnishings of the homes they designed, and Stanford White’s designs also live on in the frames of Newcomb-Macklin, who would acquire the rights to White’s designs after his death.

Which would inevitably be what White was better known for. While very well-liked and well-connected socially, in fact a central figure in the New York City social scene, White also seduced and on occasion assaulted teenage girls. With New York in the heyday of burlesque, there were plenty of lovely chorus girls and aspiring models as conquests. Rumors of his red velvet swing swirled around the city, and these rumors, among other social incidents, would fuel an obsession with deadly consequences.

Evelyn Nesbit, who could barely be called one of White’s conquests, as he’d sexually assaulted her while she was 16 years old and unconscious to boot, had married Harry Kendall Thaw, a man whose lifelong mental instability was concealed by his Pittsburgh steel family fortune. Thaw’s dislike for White stemmed not only from his wife’s account of her interactions with the architect, but also from a myriad of social slights, mostly imagined or magnified by mental illness. In short, Thaw felt White had defiled Nesbit and thwarted his attempts at social climbing in the city, while White was likely oblivious to it all.

On June 25, 1906, both White and the Nesbit-Thaws were attending a show at the Madison Square Garden rooftop garden theater, when Thaw confronted White, drew a gun and said either “You’ve ruined my life” or “You’ve ruined my wife” before shooting White three times at close range, twice in the head and once in shoulder. Bystanders initially thought it was all a big prank, but White died almost instantly.

The trial, touted as “The Trial of the Century,” would be a media circus for the time, with the papers working every salacious angle to the story. Yellow journalism painted White as debauched and hedonistic, revisiting and questioning the value of his work. The tarnishing of White’s reputation when coupled with Thaw’s questionable mental state resulted in a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Ironically, White’s autopsy revealed that he was suffering from three diseases which would have killed him in a relatively short period of time.

Today White’s name is most often associated with the Newcomb-Macklin frames which still fetch big prices at auction and are often more valuable than the art they contain.

Take a spin through the database and you’ll soon realized there are so many little daily comforts that you take for granted. I don’t just mean things like heat and running water, but also things like adhesive envelopes. Sounds small, doesn’t it, in this age of online bill paying, but consider for a moment that Thomas Jefferson is estimated to have written more than 20,000 letters! That’s a lot of inconvenient sealing!

Movies make sealing letters look romantic and mysterious, but it was rather a hassle. You had to have heat to do it, which pretty much meant an open flame, and open flames weren’t necessarily that readily available. Candles were expensive, friction matches weren’t around yet, and thus an open flame meant finding a lit hearth somewhere nearby from which to light a heat source or fussing with a tinderbox. (And candle flames weren’t exactly ideal anyway – they burned too hot and most candles were tallow, so they smoked, so a candle flame could easily singe the wax and lead to a big blackened bubble that looked like the remnants of a scorched marshmallow – and then the wax might not form the desired seal.)

Enter the wax jack. They were developed around the mid-1600s, at least that seems to be when they began to gain wider use, and they were a simple design – a roller (a jack) on a frame or stand. Around them was wrapped the wax in the form of a long taper, normally a fiber wick coated to about the thickness of a modern ink pen with wax. (Beeswax was what used, as it did not smoke and was not as soft as tallow, which was soft enough to easily become a sticky, fused lump.) Held in place by a clip or scissors that also served the purpose of preventing the taper from burning dangerously low, the taper would burn with a tiny, bright flame perfectly suited for melting sealing wax.

They would go on to become so popular in the 1700s that they would become integral parts of desk sets and would as a result begin to vary more widely in form, style, and materials. They might be made of silver or brass, made with or without handles or snuffers, made with an array of designs used to feed out more of the taper.

Enclosed wax jacks, the same central concept of a spindle that fed out a taper only with the spindle enclosed in a container of some sort, usually egg- or tankard-shaped, and with the taper feeding out of a hole in the top, were called bougie boxes. Perhaps because the boxes allowed for a display of wealth and were more travel-friendly, they tended to be more widely used by the upper classes. In either case, based on age, materials, and form (versions with scissors are more valuable), wax jacks or bougie boxes can be quite collectible today, bringing anywhere from $50 to $1000 at auction.

Edwin Burrage Child (American, 1868-1937) oil on canvas painting, Amelia Earhart, signed and dated "1930" lower right, in Newcomb-Macklin frame.S.H. McElswain founded a framing company in 1871 in Evanston, Illinois, but the name by which it is known to collectors today comes from a partnership that began twelve years later in 1883, with McElswain’s bookkeepers Charles Macklin and John C. Newcomb, who formed a partnership in order to assume command of the business.

The company, which would have enough success to support showrooms in Chicago and New York as well as a crew of traveling salesmen, owed much of its early success to the relationships it established with schools of artists, like the American Impressionists and the Taos School, as well as with specific artists such as John Singer Sargent, Maxfield Parrish, George Bellows and many others. By working directly with their important artist clients to develop frame styles and finish treatments to complement their paintings, Newcomb-Macklin developed powerful relationships and placed their frames in the finest art collections in the country.

They also worked with only the best in terms of designers and craftsmen, producing some of the most beautiful and original Arts & Crafts frames in America. Some of their most famous frames are based on reproductions of the work of famed architect Stanford White. Newcomb-Macklin acquired the rights to White’s work after his assassination in 1906.

Newcomb-Macklin frames have a distinctive construction that makes them readily identifiable. Their corner splines (spline is basically a fancy word for slat) are unique and are sometimes referred to as perpendicular. Unlike most frames which are joined with a traditional 45-degree miter cut, a butterfly joint or perhaps a dovetail joint, Newcomb-Macklin frame corners are essentially a separate piece, like a chunky V-shaped section, between the side slats of the frame. (It might be a little hard to visualize, but by clicking on the photo above and looking at the enlarged view, one can get a better idea of this distinctive construction.) They are sometimes factory stamped and/or labeled, but generally identification can be done simply on the basis of the corner construction.

In 1979 the Newcomb-Macklin company was purchased by the Thanhardt-Burger Corporation, which had themselves specialized in producing handmade frames since 1927. With the Newcomb-Macklin roots, Thanhardt-Burger is now considered to be the oldest continuously operated frame-making company in the United States.

Joseph Marie Charles (1752-1834) never really bore the surname that has been applied to his loom. Rather Jacquard was a nickname of sorts given to his family’s particular branch of all the Charleses in Lyon during the 18th century. Despite the family’s prosperity (his father was a master weaver), Joseph had very little education and did not learn to read until he was a teenager. Joseph’s father died when Joseph was 20, but it is unknown how he spent much of his early adult life.

Historians are fairly confident that he married in 1778, had a son in 1779, fled the spreading rebellion in Lyon in 1793, and joined the revolutionary army, where his son would die in battle. By 1800, Joseph had returned to the family tradition and was experimenting with innovative new ideas – including the Jacquard loom, which could be “programmed” to weave pattern. Although there was opposition from weavers who felt they would lose their work and there were technical glitches that would not be resolved until 1815, the potential of his loom was immediately recognized and the French government awarded Jacquard a pension and royalties on machines.

In traditional weaving, warp threads are stretched up and down on a loom, while weft threads run at right angles to the warp through the “shed” or the gap created between the lower and upper warp threads, which are raised and lowered by the operation of the loom in between passing the weft threads across back and forth through the shed. For plain cloth, this is simple – every other warp thread is raised and over hundreds and thousands of passes of the shuttle of weft threads, the cloth is built up. Then it gets complicated… By raising warp threads in different orders and by changing out the colored threads in the weft, a weaver can create a wide variety of textures, patterns, colors and even designs, but the process is slow and complicated. Jacquard’s loom, which used punched cards with rows for each row of the design that were then strung together in order, aimed to expedite the process and eliminated common errors, building on the work of more than 70 years’ of contributions from other French weavers, none of whom had been able to create systems that would execute textiles complex enough to justify the expense and the learning curve. But Napoleon was eager to incentivize improvements in the French textile industry in order to trump Britain’s textile business, Jacquard had the work of several other key inventors to build on, and his success was quickly recognized.

Jacquard coverlets in America are occasionally seen from the 1820s, but 1830s dates are much more common. The production of Jacquard pieces in the United States would hit its peak in the 1840s and 50s, but would taper off fairly rapidly with the equally dramatic rise of New England textile mills. As with all textiles, condition is important. While there were looms large enough to accommodate the full width of a coverlet, most were woven on smaller looms, necessitating the weaving of two separate panels that were then stitched together along the center – the same center line along which they were often folded. As a result, coverlets are often found with split or fraying areas down the middle. Weavers would frequently sign and/or date the corner blocks and these coverlets tend to be more desirable, as are the rarer patterns with railroad or steamboat imagery (as opposed to the much more common flower or bird motifs).

Values for coverlets have softened over the past decade. Textiles always require a different kind of commitment than many antiques, as they cannot be used, and coverlets in particular are difficult because they are woven, meaning they pick easily, and they are wool, so they collect dust and pet hair. Coverlets in rough condition can bring as little as $10-$25, while most fetch between $300-$700 at auction, although ones with rare designs or from areas with few documented examples can still get to $1,000-$3,000 on the auction block.

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