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New Additions in Dining Room Show More Authentic Interpretation

“The oval tables that had previously stood in the vibrant green room were determined to have been made too late, and thus they were the wrong style and shape,” said Susan P. Schoelwer, Robert H. Smith Senior Curator. “Furthermore, they would not have been able to accommodate groups of the size that the Washingtons occasionally entertained—up to 20 guests were noted to sit down simultaneously for a meal.”

A close examination of period records was in order. The process revealed the existence of two long-serving pieces of furniture— the only dining tables mentioned in any inventory of Mount Vernon’s furnishings from their purchase in 1757 until their sale from Martha Washington’s estate in 1802.

Despite now knowing what kind of tables they were seeking to properly interpret the Mansion’s dining scenarios, Mount Vernon’s curatorial staff expected a lengthy search to locate appropriate pieces for the collection. The style had fallen out of fashion with the introduction of neoclassical designs, and pairs were easily and often separated among families. Wear and tear on moving parts, just as Washington experienced, plus the loss of pieces that were disassembled for the valuable large sections of patinated early mahogany, also complicated the process.

“I fully anticipated that we would have to wait years to find an appropriate pair,” said Erby. “But it just so happened that when I reached out to Dr. Adam Bowett, a leading authority on British furniture, he had seen a pair recently that met the specifications of George Washington’s order in every particular except the precise dimensions.”

Nor did the serendipity stop there: the tables were purchased from the antiques firm Solomon Bly, Inc. in Tring, the Hertfordshire town where George Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, was born and raised before travelling to Virginia in 1656. Ancestors of Julian Bly, the firm’s owner, were actually neighbors of John Washington.

One of the recently purchased tables is displayed in the dining room set for a small number of visitors. Photograph by Walter Smalling, Jr.

The companion table is presented with leaves down, at rest, to showcase the mobility of 18th-century furniture. Photograph by Karen Price.