On the market: Antique games table of superior quality, Wilde history

  • July 29, 2010 12:52

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The Albemarle Club Games Table, circa 1875, English or Irish, diameter 65 1/8 inches.
M.S. Rau Antiques
The Albemarle Club Games Table has six drawers revealing individual gaming stations.
M.S. Rau Antiques

Perhaps the world's greatest antique games table is newly available from New Orleans-based M.S. Rau Antiques. This incredible tables de jeux was made expressly for the posh yet distinctly bohemian Albemarle Club in London, the site of literary legend Oscar Wilde's 1895 scandal.

If tables could talk, this exceptional piece would have stories to tell.

Wilde (1854-1900), who had gained prominence in the Victorian era for his poems, novels, and plays such as the satirical Importance of Being Earnest, was at the center of the demise of Albemarle Club. The writer's own downfall began there on February, 18, 1895, when the Marquess of Queensberry, angered over a supposed relationship between Wilde and his son, left his calling card at the club, inscribed with the then-criminal accusation: "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite [sic]".

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The card led to Wilde's failed libel action against Queensberry, followed by the writer's prosecution, prison time, and exile from England. He then "lost the joy of writing" and died destitute in Paris at age 46.

Albemarle Club, its reputation damaged by the scandal, subsequently relocated to 37 Dover Street and closed after World War I.

Once gracing the storied club's interiors was this sophisticated, supremely-functional, and masterfully-crafted games table with extraordinary features. The finest Cuban mahogany and satinwood inlays were employed. An elaborate key mechanism, inscribed "The Albemarle Club," at the center of the table, consists of a series of locks that are opened only by a special set of custom brass keys.

Photograph of Oscar Wilde taken in 1882 by Napoleon Sarony.
Wikipedia Commons

Six individual keys correspond to individual drawers on the table, and one large master key opens all six. The drawers reveal individual stations that contain a myriad of pieces and boards to play games from chess, dominoes and cribbage to backgammon and horseracing, among others. Each station is fashioned with a sliding cocktail glass support and a compartment to store its own brass key.

Superior craftsmanship and an intruiging provenance cast this circa 1875 piece in the "best of the best" category. The listed price is $175,000.


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