The coffee table has to be one of the most widely used pieces of furniture today. However in Antique furniture terms their a fairly recent item of furnishing only being specifically made and called “Coffee Tables” since the late Victorian period around the 1860's.
|An Early French Oak Coffee Table circa 1860, Offered by; www.ecantiques.com|
Before that time (around 1650-1700's) occasional tables were used for this purpose and positioned to sit in front of high backed settles or settees. The tables were higher than the coffee tables we know of today as the settles were designed to make the occupant sit more upright and usually a Tea table or similar style of table was used.
|George III English Mahogany "tilt top" Tea Table circa 1760, Offered by; www.yewtreehouseantiques.1stdibs.com|
|18th Century English Tea Table in Mahogany, Offered by; www.davidskinnerantiques.com|
Towards the end of the 18th century the settee and settle with its high sitting style began to be replaced by the sofa designed for comfort and with a much lower back. This in turn led to the beginning of the “Sofa Table” a slightly lower table which stood against the back of the sofa enabling anyone sitting to put down a cup or book and a better level.
|A 19th Century English Mahogany Sofa Table, Offered by Debenham Antiques Ltd;|
The first record of a specifically designed coffee table was in 1868 by E.W Goodwin and quickly mass produced throughout Great Britain by a company called Collinson & Lock.
Although history seems to show that the coffee table originated in Britain , its my opinion that a great deal of their influence comes from China, Japan & India. The reason being the nearest early comparison seems to be the low tables used in tea making ceremonies, that in conjunction with the fashion around the 1880's for oriental décor and Japanese influences in European furniture design.
|Chinese Lacquered Tea/Coffee Table circa 1920, Offered by; http://www.susansilverantiques.com|
Over the last century the rise and popularity of the coffee table has been immense and a vast number of styles has followed. Wonderful antique dining tables have been “ cut down” to fill a niche for the demand of the “antique” coffee table, blanket chests or trunks are often used and on occasion I've even been served coffee on a vintage Louis Vuitton Courier trunk !!
|An English Pine Farmhouse Table circa 1880 Cut Down to Coffee Table Height, Offered by; www.ecantiques.com|
|A French Art Deco Coffee Table in Walnut, Glass & Chrome circa 1930, Offered by; www.rupertcavendish.co.uk|
|A Mid 20th Century Danish Coffee Table by Grete Jalk, Offered by; www.modernartifacts.net|
|A Coffee Table in Pop Art Form, Signed "John Gwinn 1969" Offered By; www.hlchalfant.com|
|A Rare Baker Chinese Yellow & Hand Painted Sakura Blossom Coffee Table USA circa 1950, Offered By; www.assemblageltd.com|
|An Antique Continental Clock Face Mounted onto a Later Metal Base, Offered By; www.oldplank.com|
|A Superb Brazilian Coffee Table by Jorge Zalszupin circa 1960, Offered By; www.heatherkarlie.com|