Q: I have a mahogany turn top game table that I am hoping you can help me identify. I believe it is a backgammon table because of the original oil cloth backgammon liner in the drawer. It has its original brass drawer pulls, inlaid brass trim on the drawer and inlaid brass corners and feet decoration. I was told it originated in Virginia.
R. G., Emmetsburg, Iowa
A: Backgammon’s roots are in ancient times. The earliest mention of a game similar to the one we play today was called “Tabula” (translated as “table” or “board” from Byzantine Greek), and there is a reference to the Byzantine Emperor Zeno, who ruled from 474 to 475 and again from 476 to 491, playing this game.
But this does not give R. G. any information she needs to understand her games or gaming table. Suffice it to say that backgammon has been popular in Europe for a very long time, and the rules and procedures have evolved even in recent years.
Games of chance have always been very popular, and the first surfaces used were just boards placed on top of a table. The games or gaming table was not introduced until the 17th century and was made in France, England and eventually, the United States. A double layer top, which could be folded open and sometimes swivel for stability, was popular. But some tables had slide tops, green felt covering called “baize” and indentions for candles or even pockets for coins (called guinea pockets).
Unfortunately, the origins of the table in today’s question cannot be determined with any certainty without an in-person examination by a specialist in late 18th or early 19th century English and/or American furniture. According to Southern furniture specialist Sumpter Priddy, the style of this mahogany games or gaming table suggests it could be of Virginia origin, but it is much more likely to have been made in England and shipped to the former Southern colony.
The top appears to be thinner than those seen on typical Southern tables and the pierced metal brackets are far more typical of English examples than of American. The clincher, however, may be that there are no known Southern examples of a games table with a built-in backgammon board surface.
If the piece is Southern American, it is probably unique and therefore quite valuable. But we suspect when the piece is carefully examined, the experts will deliver a verdict that it is of English origins and just found in Virginia.
We would like this to be a great discovery, but strongly feel that the odds are against it. If this table turns out to have been made in Virginia circa 1800, it would be exceedingly rare and valuable, but there is a much better chance that this gaming or games table was made in England during the same time frame, and it should be valued in the $2,500 to $4,000 range at auction.
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