Treasures: Anglo-Indian Table Great Conversation Piece


Dear Helaine and Joe:

My Anglo-Indian ebony table is extensively carved and approximately 22 inches tall. The original paper label from the maker is still on the bottom of the table. Unfortunately, there is a crack in the tabletop and a section of the table’s base is missing. I would like to sell the piece if it is worth shipping to a sales venue from northern Wisconsin.

Thank you,

L. H.

Dear L. H.:

People used to talk about a “conversation piece” in their homes — often an unusual piece of art hanging on the wall, or in this case, a beautiful, exotically carved table from a far-off land that few have had the good fortune to visit.

India was the crown jewel of the British Empire and Queen Victoria was very proud to be “Empress of India.”

Traders from many European countries such as Portugal, France and the Netherlands came to India looking for spices, teas, and silks, and when they did, they found the locals essentially sitting on the floor to eat and socialize.

There was little domestic furniture, and the indigenous people spread rugs or thin mattresses on the floor or ground and used pillows or bolsters as back rests.

Most of the Europeans were not happy with this arrangement and imported Western furniture to the subcontinent for their domestic use.

When replacements were needed or when a homeowner did not want to wait for something to be shipped out from Europe, they found skilled Indian cabinetmakers to make pieces to fit their needs.

Local woods such as teak, camphor, padouk, coromandel and ebony were fused with design elements taken from both Indian and Western cultures.

Ivory, bone or ebony was often inlaid into surfaces and decorations of elephants and other local animals plus representations of tropical flowers and leaves were carved in intricate ornamentation. Desks, chairs, settees, boxes and center tables (such as this one) were made in some abundance from the days of the 18th century to the present time and are sometimes termed “Anglo-Indian” or “British-Colonial.”

These items were made in India by Indian craftsmen for the English administrators, and sometimes for the local Indian rulers who wished to curry favor — sorry about the pun — with their British overlords.

The label found under the top of this center tale is for the Paine Furniture Company of Boston, which was established by Leonard Shearer in 1835.

Initially, Shearer and his apprentice John S. Paine made traditional antique-style furniture they sold at fair prices.

At one time it was the largest company of this sort in New England.

The Paine Furniture Company expanded in the 1870s and began importing furniture from places such as India.

The value of this center table, which was made during the last quarter of the 19th century, is greatly affected by the crack (probably caused by atmospheric changes) and the missing part at the base.

Still, it is a rather nice piece and in perfect condition, it would probably sell at auction for around $1,000.

With the problems noted, however, that value drops by at least 75 percent.

The insurance replacement value is between $400 and $700.

View the original article online.