The Potter-Crouch-Jordan Family Chippendale Mahogany Tea Table
Signed by the Cabinetmaker Henry Cliffton, ( Henry…C…f..n) (working- 1748- 1771)
Carving Attributed to “Spike” working in the Cliffton Shop.
Philadelphia, circa 1755-60
Height: 29 inches
Diameter of top: 37 3/8 inches
LOT SOLD: $1,895,000
Major-General James Potter (1729-1789) and his wife, Elizabeth Cathcart (d. 1764) of Philadelphia, who married in circa 1755. After his wife’s death, he married Mary Patterson (1739-1791) in circa 1765 and they lived in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania;
Colonel James Crouch (c. 1728-1794) and his wife Hannah (Brown) (1727-1787), who married on September 22, 1757, at Walnut Hill in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania;
To James and Hannah Crouch’s son, Edward Crouch (1764-1827), and James and Mary Potter’s daughter, Margaret (1775-1797), who had married and were living at Walnut Hill;
To their daughter Mary Crouch (1791-1846), who married Benjamin Franklin Jordan (1777-1861), at Walnut Hill;
To their son General Thomas Jefferson Jordan (1821-1895), who married Jane Wilson (1823-1898);
To their daughter Letitia Wilson Jordan (1853-1931), who married Leonard W. Bacon (1830-1907);
To their son David L. Bacon (1895-1982), who married Maria Tillman Hart (1895-1925);
Thence by descent to present owners.
Inscription on verso in white chalk: “Henry…” illegible second name
Previously unknown and never published, this important tea table signed by Henry Cliffton, is a rare survival of Pre-Revolutionary craftsmanship from Philadelphia that has descended in the family of the original owners for over 250 years. Family tradition traces the ownership of this table back to Edward Crouch (1764-1827) and his wife Margaret Potter (1775-1797) of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, who inherited it from one of their sets of parents. Margaret was the daughter of Major-General James Potter (1729-1789), the Revolutionary War patriot and wealthy Pennsylvania landowner, and his second wife Mary (Patterson) (1739-1791), who married in circa 1765. He and his first wife, Elizabeth Cathcart (d. 1764) of Philadelphia, likely commissioned the table when they married in circa 1755.
It is also possible that the table was originally owned by Edward Crouch’s parents — Colonel James Crouch (c. 1728-1794), a landowner in Pennsylvania with a distinguished military career, and his wife Hannah (Brown) (1727 – 1787). They may have commissioned it after their marriage on September 22, 1757 to furnish their residence, Walnut Hill, in Dauphin County Pennsylvania. The table has descended directly through seven generations of the Jordan and Bacon branches of the Potter-Crouch family to the present owners. It is in a remarkable state of preservation, retaining an original finish that has never been waxed or varnished. The fact that the top has not been cleaned other than from daily use is in itself noteworthy. If one employs the four factors used to evaluate a scalloped-top Philadelphia tea table; quality, rarity, condition and provenance, this example ranks at the very top. It is quite simply, an unequivocal masterpiece and represents the apogee of Philadelphia Rococo craftsmanship. The exuberantly carved tea table would have been, when acquired, one of the most costly versions of the form available, and possibly this artisan’s piece de resistance. The table relates in a variety of ways to several examples extant in both museum and private collections.
The craftsman who ornamented this tea table in Clifton’s Shop was one of the most accomplished and talented artisans working in Philadelphia in the mid-Eighteenth century. The handwriting used for the signature “Henry…” on the underside of the top is in the same hand as the signature “Henry Clifton” found on a High Chest of Drawers in the collection at Colonial Williamsburg. His work is distinguished by elongated naturalistic tendrils with deep gouge cuts near their termination. The carving can be attributed to the as-yet unidentified carver nicknamed “The Spike Carver,” or “Spike” for short, by Alan Miller and Luke Beckerdite. According to Miller, this carver was “…one of the important Philadelphia carvers of the [mid to late 1750s,] 1760s and early 1770s.”1 It appears that that work by his services were in demand; his hand has been identified as the carver of several important mid- 18th century Colonial American commissions. The Gratz- Family dressing table (figure 1), with matching high-chest, at Winterthur “stands as one of the most florid expressions of high-style Rococo taste in pre-Revolutionary America.”2 Many of the most popular cabinet making shops employed several carvers to complete an important commission. In the case of the Gratz Suite, while the high chest was carved by one hand, the dressing table was, according to Miller, worked by “Spike.” A close comparison of the carving on the Gratz dressing table with that on the present tea table confirms that the two pieces were carved by the same hand. Spike’s use of C-scrolls ending in leafage, gauge cuts near the end of leaf tips and veining tools all created an exuberance of movement characteristic of the very best Rococo.
Distinctive characteristics of his work a gouge cut down the center of most of his carved leaves, which often ran off the end of the straight leaf tips. Other pieces which display “Spike’s” energetic and distinctive work can be observed on the Lawrence-Palmer high chest (figure 2) and matching dressing table at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Wistar-Sharples desk-and-bookcase (figure 3) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The carving on both the suite and the desk-and-bookcase, including the working of c-scrolls, acanthus leaves, and other Rococo elements are clearly by “Spike” and relates to the present tea table.
The Potter-Crouch-Jordan Family Tea Table is made of solid choice mahogany, with a scalloped single-board top measuring 37 3/8 inches at widest, above an opulently-carved pedestal and tripod base. The scalloped-top, of choice figured wood, has a deeply carved piecrust edge shaped into eight repeating passages—alternating between 9 inch double peaked cyma-curved passages and 5 ½ inch plain arched passages. Most colonial Philadelphia pie crust tea tables from the 1750s through the early 1770s display tops which average about 32 inches, and rarely exceed 34 inches. On the present table, the breadth of the top and 72 inches of vigorous scalloping verses 44 inches of un-carved edge– adds to the table’s energy and movement. The combination of the extravagant size and exuberant scalloping on the table’s top combines to create a masterful statement un-matched by any recorded 18th century American Colonial tea table. The table’s top rotates and tilts with the assistance of a “birdcage” structure with four balusters, the profiles of each echoing the central shape of the turned and carved shaft which supports it.
The tripod base displays proportions and a palette of Rococo carving which add to the table’s vitality. Inspired by Georgian precedents, this vasiform pedestal is helical in form. The spiral fluting adds movement and thrust to the upper shaft. This design has been found on only a few Philadelphia Colonial tea tables. The gadrooned canopy below overhangs a vasiform shaft with finely articulated acanthus, C-scroll and vertical cabochon-carving on its lower half. The craftsman purposely left the upper part of the vase plain and its raised surface is dramatically highlighted against a smooth background. The guilloche-carved ring rests above three curvaceous legs, the knee of each centered by opposing C-scrolls. Each of the cabriole legs is ornamented with richly carved, naturalistic acanthus leaves, ending in bold claw and ball feet.
One of the most powerful design elements of this table are the rarely seen and boldly carved C-scrolls on the underside of each leg. This passage is brilliant in its design and execution, in that it begins as a volute and subtly transitions into acanthus leafage. Directly above this passage is the exact motif repeated in reverse. This C-scroll shape is also repeated vertically in the small incised design flanking the oval at the lower part of the shaft between the legs. The passages between the legs are each relieved with a robust acanthus leaf cluster, centered by an oval, with projecting central leaf tip at both top and bottom. The lower leaf tip forms part of the profile of the base of the tripod.
A tea table in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) (Figure 6) with identical dimensions and carving suggests the possibility that the present table and the MMA table were made as a pair. In Colonial America each tea table was a uniquely crafted object with its own combination of design elements. The two tables are nearly identical in design, with tops measuring a rare and distinctive 37 inches in diameter comprised of eight repeating passages which display the same exuberant combination of scalloped and arched sections. The exceptional carving found on the tables follows the same design: a spiral-fluted shaft, a gadrooned canopy, the baluster below with C-scroll, cabochon and acanthus carving, a guilloche ring, opposing C-scrolls on the knees with acanthus leaves trailing down the legs, an acanthus motif between the legs, and claw feet with finely articulated talons and flattened balls. Minor differences include a heavier shaft on the MMA table and much less prominent C-scrolled leafage which may be on account of the slightly more narrow legs. The MMA table was cleaned at some point in the late 19th or early 20th century.
The present table and its (probable) mate at the MMA, produced in Cliffton’s shop, which employed several carvers working in a similar vocabulary. Although the carving is attributed to “Spike”, it is closely related to two tea tables dating to the 1750’s attributed to the Garvan carver. The “Acme of Perfection” tea table with a history in the McMichael-Tilghman (Figure 8) family and especially the Fisher-Fox tea table (Figure 9), commissioned by a member of the Fisher, Fox, Pleasants or Wharton family. In 1935, the former was published by William MacPherson Hornor in The Blue Book of Philadelphia Furniture as “The Acme of Perfection in American Piecrust Tables.” The Fisher-Fox table descended to William Wharton Fisher, a member of the Quaker mercantile elite who was elected mayor of Philadelphia in 1773, and his wife, Mary Pleasants Fox, in the early 1800s. Like the present example, it retained its original finish and sold at Christie’s on October 3, 2007 for $6,761,000. “Spike” was clearly familiar with the carving vocabulary of the Garvan carver and may have been working alongside him in the same shop. The present table has a smaller canopy than the McMichael-Tilghman and Fisher-Fox examples have a deeper canopy and more profuse acanthus carving on the baluster. The McMichael-Tilghman family table has flower heads carved between the legs while the Fisher-Fox example displays the identical motif found on the present table yet this passage was conceived and executed in a more toned down fashion. The underside of the legs lack C-scrolls and the carved device on the lower shaft between the legs is in lower relief and is contained within the base, versus projecting beyond the base as it does on the present example.
Carving by the Garvan Carver is found on multiple other tripod base forms attributed to the Garvan carver including: one at the State Department owned by James Hutchinson (1752-1793), one formerly in the collection of Stratford Hall Plantation, one at Winterthur Museum, and one in the Hennage Collection.[i] The base of the Garvan Carver-worked fire screen in the collection of the Chipstone Foundation features many of the same motifs as the Potter-Crouch-Jordan Family Tea Table.
The Potter-Crouch-Jordan Family
Major-General James Potter (1729-1789) was born in Ireland in 1729 and emigrated to America in 1741, settling with his family in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. He had a prestigious military career taking part in the Kittanning Expedition during the French and Indian War and serving during Pontiac’s Rebellion before leading militia troops during the Revolutionary War at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine and Germantown. In 1777, with troops under his command in the counties of Philadelphia, Chester, and Delaware, he obtained important information for George Washington, and prevented supplies from reaching the enemy. When the army under Washington was on its way to Valley Forge, and it was discovered that enemy forces under Cornwallis were on the other side of the Schuylkill River at Matson’s Ford, it was General Potter with part of the Pennsylvania militia who met and opposed the British soldiers with great bravery until he was obliged to retreat from their superior numbers. In 1778, Washington wrote “If the state of General Potter’s affairs will admit of his returning to the army, I shall be exceedingly glad to see him.” Potter lived in Mifflin County and was one of Pennsylvania’s largest landowners. In 1776, he served as colonel and as a member of the first Pennsylvania State Constitutional Convention. He was elected to Pennsylvania’s Council of Censors and was Vice President of Pennsylvania from 1781 to 1782. He married Elizabeth Cathcart (d. 1764) of Philadelphia in circa 1755 and they had two children. After her death in 1764, he married Mary Patterson (1739-1791) and they had three children.
Colonel James Crouch (c. 1728-1794) was born in Virginia in 1728 and came to Pennsylvania prior to 1757, when he married Hannah Brown (1727-1787) on September 22, 1757 and purchased 3,000 acres of land in York County. After subsequently selling that property, he and Hannah moved to Paxtang Township in Lancaster County, where they bought 1,000 acres and built their house, Walnut Hill. Colonel Crouch served during the Revolutionary War with honor and distinction. He was a Sergeant of Captain Matthew Smith’s Company of Paxtang Volunteers in the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Army. His company accompanied Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec and he was captured in the Battle of Quebec in 1775. After his release, he became an officer of the Associators Battalion and subsequently paymaster. James and Hannah Crouch had four children: Mary Crouch, Elizabeth Crouch, Hannah Crouch and Edward Crouch.
After the respective deaths of James Crouch in 1794, Hannah Crouch in 1787, James Potter in 1789 and Mary Potter in 1791, the table became the property of their children Edward (1764-1827) and Margaret (Potter) (1775-1797), who had married and were living at Walnut Hill. Edward was born at Walnut Hill on November 9, 1764 and at age 17 enlisted in the Army and commanded a company in the Whisky Insurrection of 1794. He served in the House of Representatives from 1804 to 1806 and was a presidential elector in 1813. Governor Snyder appointed him associate judge of Dauphin County on April 16, 1813. He resigned his position when he was elected to the thirteenth U.S. Congress.
Margaret (Potter) Crouch died in 1797 and her husband died in 1827. The table descended to their only child, Mary Crouch (1791-1846), who was born on October 23, 1791 and married Benjamin Franklin Jordan (1777-1861) on October 29, 1811 and lived at Walnut Hill. Benjamin was the son of Thomas Jordan and Rachel Steele of Milton, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. In 1805, he moved to Lancaster to work as a bookseller with William Dickson while also editing the Lancaster Intelligencer. He was appointed weigh master of the port of Philadelphia in 1808 and resigned in 1816 to move to Walnut Hill. He was first president of the National Bank of Middletown, Pennsylvania from its first organization in 1832 to 1841. He represented the Dauphin District in the state Senate from 1846 to 1850. When Mary died on October 27, 1846, Benjamin succeeded her as owner of Walnut Hill.
The table was next owned by their son, General Thomas Jefferson Jordan (1821-1895) and his wife Jane Wilson (1823-1898). General Jordan was born on December 3, 1821 and graduated from Dickinson College with a law degree in 1842. From 1861 to 1865, he served in the military during the Civil War in the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry “Lochiel Cavalry,” 92nd U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, 3rd Cavalry Division. After being commissioned Major in 1861, he was later captured in Kentucky on July 9, 1862 and imprisoned in Castle Thunder, a Confederacy prison in Richmond, Virginia for five months before being exchanged and returned to duty. From November 15 to 21, 1864, he served under Major General William T. Sherman on the March to the Sea in Georgia. In February 1865, he became Brigadier General and served in that capacity until leaving the military on July 18, 1865 and returning to Harrisburg to practice law. He moved to Philadelphia to work for the post office and U.S. Mint.
General and Mrs. Jordan had five children, Ann Wilson Jordan, Mary Crouch Jordan, David Wilson Jordan (1859-1935), Thomas Jordan and Letitia Wilson Jordan (1853-1931). David Jordan was an artist and a friend of Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), who painted his portrait dated 1899 currently in the collection of the Huntington Library. Eakins also painted a portrait of Letitia, now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, dated 1888 and inscribed “TO MY FRIEND / D.W. JORDAN / EAKINS.88.” David painted a portrait of his sister, Letitia, in 1890. After General Jordan died on April 2, 1895 and his wife’s subsequent death in 1898, the table became the property of Letitia, who married Leonard W. Bacon (1830-1907) and next to their son, David (1895-1982) and his wife, Maria Tillman Hart (1895-1925), who was the granddaughter of the celebrated author, Donald Grant Mitchell (1822-1908). After Maria’s death in 1925 David later married Grace Dunlap (1899-1983) with whom he had worked at Langley Field. David worked as a wind tunnel engineer with Orville Wright while Grace was the mathematician there. The table is now the property of their family members, direct descendants of James & Mary Potter and James & Hannah Crouch
18.110 [i] Accession Number 18.110.13.[i] Metropolitan Museum of Art Accession no. 18.110.14. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Accession no. 39.146. The MMA table is illustrated in Wallace Nutting, Furniture Treasury, New York, 1928, illus. 1117. [i] The high chest and en suite dressing table were owned by Henry (1737-1816) and Susanna (Wanshaer) Wynkoop (d. 1776), of Bucks County, who were married in 1761. They are illustrated in Gerald Ward, American Case Furniture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Art Gallery, 1988), n. 147, pp. 280-3 and no 166, pp. 226-7. [i] U.S. Department of State, 82.71, Winterthur Museum, Gift of Henry Francis Du Pont, 58.2215, Ex-Stratford Hall sold at Christie’s, Highly Important American Furniture: Property Deaccessioned from Stratford Hall Plantation, December 4, 2003, sale 1334, lot 3..13.
See Alan Miller, catalogue entry, in Clement E. Conger and A.W. Rollins, Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the US Department of State (New York, 1991), cat. 28; Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia, 1976), pp. 104-105, cat. 84; Morrison H. Heckscher, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1985), pp. 255-258, 351, cats. 166, 167
Keno Auctions would like to thank Amy Coes for her excellent work on this project. We are also grateful to Alan Miller for sharing his insights about “Spike”. Eric Gronning was extremely kind to make us aware of the existence of the table at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eric Gronning and Andrew Holter kindly assisted us with photographs for the catalogue entry.Morrison Hecksher and Peter Kenny, formerly at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were extremely helpful when we brought the present table to the Museum for a close comparison with its long lost mate.
Remarkably, this table retains its original varnish and the base has no subsequent layers of shellac, wax or varnish added. The figured top has a shrinkage crack extending approximately 15 ½ inches towards the center. Several small cracks exist in the pie-crust top from regular use. Small losses and abrasions to scalloped top include the following small losses: 1 in., 1 3/8 in., 1 ½ in. and 1 in. One small patch, possibly a cabinet maker’s error, 1 ¼ inch, and another patch 1 inch in pie crust edge. Attaching the cleats on the underside of the top are round head screws which appear to be original except for one that has been replaced and another that is missing. On the bird-cage, one turned post has been re-glued. There is a 3 ¼ inch split across bottom board of the bird-cage. Brass Catch and escutcheon and screws appear to be original. On the tri-pod base, the upper shaft has a crack running from shoulder (which supports birdcage) down the post vertically 1 ¾ inches. The bird-cage ring appears to be original and retains its original finish. The tulip poplar key which lock is extremely old, but may be an early (18th or early 19th century) replacement and has some loss to its width. The leather washer which buffers and lies beneath the donut appears to be 18th or early 19th century, accompanies the table. On the base, vertical splits in upper shaft of post which locks into birdcage, 3 ¾ inches and 3 inches, stabilized by 2 old screws. The vasiform section of the pedestal has an old vertical shrinkage crack approximately 3 inches long in the central area. The feet have never been fitted for casters (the table’s mate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at one time had 19th century or later casters. The lower area of the shaft has the following minor shrinkage cracks: 2 ½ inches on one leg, 1 inch on another leg, 4 ½ inch shrinkage crack on one foot a that crosses the ball and upper part of the talon. One leg has a small chip that appears to be abrasion, 8 inches from the end of the leg, which abraded some of the carving. Retains original iron “spider brace” with original rose head nails which have never been moved.