William IV Mahogany Library Reading Table attributed to William Smee
A William IV mahogany library reading table with quatrefoil base on brass castors attributed to William Smee.
This ingenious early nineteenth century table was devised at a period when mechanical furniture was highly fashionable, firms such as Morgan & Sanders and Robert Daws were famed for their “patented” furniture designs such as metamorphic library chairs and reclining mechanisms for chairs. Although not strictly a new idea, the fashion is likely to have been fuelled by the numerous makers of military campaign furniture that became popular during this time. This focus by manufacturers on design led solution for the military gentleman also spilled over into domestic life. Often considered invalid furniture in the catalogues of the period, these articles of furniture should not necessarily be viewed as such in the modern sense. Complaints such as gout were common at this time and many of these inventions were conceived for those that were less mobile but also to solve everyday problems of the Georgian period.
This table was featured in the trade catalogues of William Smee of the 1830’s (see images) where it is described as a “mahogany rising invalid table. French polished to throw over a bed or sofa”. Furthermore, the table is described within John Claudius Loudon’s influential book, “An encyclopaedia of cottage, farm and villa architecture”. Loudon was known to have used William Smee’s catalogues during the 1830’s in order to provide direction for furniture use in the domestic interior and Smee must have benefitted very well from the publicity. Although little known today, Smee (and his relationship with Loudon) had a significant influence on the transitional period between the Georgian and the Victorian furniture styles. Loudon describes it as, “a table for invalids, commonly called a bed table; which is a very great convenience to a person bedridden. The top of this table is made to rise and fall at pleasure, by raising or lowering the upper part of the pillar, which is perforated with holes at given distances, and which works in a square groove in the centre of the lower part”. After further detailed discussion in regards to the table’s construction he further states that, “This table, in mahogany, costs in London from £5 to £7”. A princely sum for the times.
As mentioned in Loudon’s description, the table is capable of being heightened on its base to almost shoulder height so could be used at the side of bed, next to the living room furniture or in an office space to accompany a desk. Capable of being used as a flat surface, the table also incorporates two ratcheted bookrests with stops that fit into the top when required and the top may also be moved from side to side on the base pillar so that it could be pulled over the lap of the sitter when required and then pushed back to position when not required.
A truly versatile and quality piece of furniture that still has useful relevance to modern day requirements.