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image icon Games table, c1880

Games table, c1880
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a games table, made around 1880 from Huon pine, measuring 73.5 cm in height x 50.0 cm square. It consists of a flat box top with a chessboard design stencilled onto the upper surface and a tapered boxed base set on four curved legs. All surfaces have been decorated with patterns of different sized and shaped fern fronds.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a games table - tables such as these were used in 19th-century Australia when board and card games were a popular form of family and social entertainment
  • was designed to be multipurpose - the top of this table can be opened to allow access to and storage of different sets of games (cards, chess, draughts) which were stored in the tapered box space beneath
  • was decorated using a stencilling process - selected fern fronds were ironed flat and artistically arranged on the flat surfaces (small pins were sometimes used to hold the units in place); dark dye or ink was then spattered or sponged over the entire surface; the frond sections were then removed to reveal the fern-shaped designs in the natural golden colour of the timber
  • references the widespread interest in ferns in the 19th century and their popularity as a design motif - widespread community interest in the fern plant developed in Britain around the late 1830s; by 1855 the English novelist Charles Kingsley (1819-75) had recognised this passion for ferns and coined the term 'Pteridomania' ('fern madness' or 'fern craze'); at the International Exhibition held in 1862 in London, fern designs appeared on pottery, glass, cast iron and other materials on display; during the second half of the 19th century potted ferns were often included in interiors as design statements and were a feature of decoration on epergnes (large and elaborate table centrepieces), engravings, embroidery and picture frames, as well as being a subject for paintings
  • references the Huon pine and its use as a design material - the Huon pine is one of the world's oldest living species of timber and the trees are known to live more than 2,000 years; the species is restricted to western and southern Tasmania; the wood is easily carved and worked, has a fine texture and a low shrinkage rate and as such has remained a preferred material for artists and fine furniture-makers.