Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Decorating With Antique Game Tables

The use of gaming tables can be traced back as far as 17th century Europe. But it was the 18th century that saw the golden age of the game table. French salons, during the reign of Louis XV, were full of tables that were made specifically for playing cards. And by the time George II came to the throne in 1727, England was a nation addicted to gaming. Gaming became so intense with many people losing an entire fortune in a single night of card playing. This, and the number of suicides associated with gaming debts, prompted England to pass The Gaming Act of 1738 making the playing of these card games expressly prohibited by law.

This 18th century pastime prompted the creation of tables which were designed to meet the needs associated with particular games that were trendy at the time. These elegant game tables incorporated surfaces suitable for such pastimes as card games, backgammon, and chess. Backgammon became extremely popular and game tables that included a well for backgammon were commonly referred to as "tric-trac tables," from the French term given to a game that was very similar to backgammon.

The game tables were important furnishings and usually would have been left out in the centers of the salons. Delicate game tables were produced with paintings or they were veneered, and inlaid with other woods. They were additionally highlighted with elegant doré bronze. Sometimes they were folded up and used as a side table until they were needed for entertaining guests or for family games. 18th-century game tables were often sold in sets of two in order to maintain symmetry in the room.

Eventually, by the early 1800s, game tables were found in middle-class homes as well. Sadly by century's end game tables found themselves out of fashion, relics of a bygone era.

Today you can still include an old world style game table in your decor. At the end of the post you will see how!

J. Reichenegg A Game of Chess

The game room at Versailles complete with a variety of game tables.

In the 1700's when lighting was often too poor to allow for reading after dark, card playing was usually the main evening activity. It was considered a desirable social skill. Since one needed knowledge of the rules of fashionable games, gaming masters were hired to teach you how the games were played.

Since games are much more comfortable played at a table, it didn’t take long for wealthy game enthusiasts to commission game tables be built dedicated to their gaming hobbies.

At first most old world game tables were designed for two people to play chess or backgammon. They rested on two legs that were usually trestled.

A Game Of Chess by George Goodwin Kilburne

The style of old world game tables then shifted to the use of four cabriole legs. This got rid of the trestles which created more room for the players to sit with their legs under the table. Now, instead of sitting two on each side, a player had their own space and could keep their cards from being so easily seen.


The small sunken well on each side of the game table would hold the coins won by each player.

Salons were overflowing with the well- to- do set all vying for a seat at the "tables". It wasn't long until all of Europe followed France's addiction to gaming. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pierre-Louis Dumesnil’s painting Interior with Card Players, shown here, captures the relaxed ambience of a typical evening of games.

Photo by Thomas Quine

In private houses game tables were "must have" pieces of furniture. The intricate woodwork made antique game tables attractive and functional.

A 18th century Deavid Roentgen transforming gaming table. Roentgen, a German, was Marie Antoinett's appointed cabinet maker.

The top folds over to reveal a baize covered space for playing cards. Then when flipped again there is an inlaid chessboard on the under side.When the top is removed you have two compartments fitted for backgammon.

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Gaming in the 18th century was a way of letting everyone know you had wealth at your disposal. Among aristocrats, gaming was an indication of status symbol. Antique game tables were the stars of the salon. Beautiful chairs were always close by ready to be pulled up to the table so the games could begin.

The Chess Game, one of the most famous paintings by Emile-Georges Weiss.

Backgammon became extremely popular as a game of leisure. In this case a portable backgammon board is used on top of the card table. Trictrac was another 18th century game, also played with a Backgammon set, that was enjoyed by many people.

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The top of this game table either lifts off or has an inventive mechanism that turns the top at a 90 degree angle over the frieze to reveal a leather or felt surface where a number of different games might be played. The frieze doubles as a storage compartment.

There were many different styles of game tables from simple to over the top designs. Or you could always just use a small side table to play games on.

However, most aristocrats of the day would have chosen more elaborate game tables with inlay and ormolu mounts.

Most old world game tables were outfitted with chess boards to accommodate the popularity of that trendy game of the day.

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Some old world game tables, designed for chess during Louis XV's reign, would have inlaid marble tops.

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier Chess Players

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Many a game of dominoes was played on these antique game tables. The game moved from Italy to France in the early 18th Century and became a fad. By the late 18th century, France was also producing domino puzzles. The word "Domino" is French for a black and white hood worn by Christian priests in winter which is probably where the name of the game derives from.

Beautiful wood, gilt, or Meissen porcelain boxes would sit on the game table and would hold tokens or counters.

A portion of Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533) - Game of Chess

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Typically a green  material resembling felt called baize would be use to cover play areas of these antique game tables.

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Old World game table in the salon of the Chateau de Cheverny, France.

In the 18th century there was always a space somewhere in your home for a game table.

Antique game tables are seen in today's homes as well. If you are a fan, you can still decorate with them. If you are not a gamer, use one as a tea table.

Alot of people still like to use game tables. Our family enjoys playing the new Euro style board games and I hate folding card tables. I am feverishly looking for an antique game table that suits our needs.

Grand salons are not required for gaming today. There is probably a space somewhere in you home for a game table and a couple of pretty chairs. I like this intimate space at the top of the stairs.

Remember you don't have to have an inlaid, ormolu drenched game table. Just find yourself a pretty style that works for you.

Even a round one will make a great game table!

Your chess board may not be inlaid with bits of marble but you can still make it elegant by sitting it on a pretty wood, mirrored, or agate plateau.

There are many styles of tables to choose from so it will be fun to create your own gaming space by adding old world style game table. And after all fun is what gaming is all about!!

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This blog post was published by Lisa Farmer

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