Regency furniture designers and makers were very clever chaps. The term metamorphic was used to describe a piece of furniture where the same structure could be reused in an alternative form. For example a library chair could be turned upside down and steps pulled out, thus creating a small staircase. Or the library chair could be turned upside down and part of the chair would be reconfigured into its new role as a desk top. These clever designs saved floor space for the homeowner and reduced the number of expensive pieces of furniture that the homeowner had to buy.
Jupe table, at its smallest
The expanding Jupe Table 1835 was not strictly metamorphic, but it was cleverly designed to change shape, according to family needs. And it was not Regency either, since the Prince Regent became King George IV in 1820 and King William IV reigned from 1830–1837.
Who was Robert Alexander Jupe? I can find almost nothing about his early years and even his birth year (1782) and place (Stourton, Wiltshire) are uncertain. What IS documented is that when upholsterer Robert Jupe patented his Improved Expanding Table in 1835, he was in partnership with John Johnstone in New Bond Street London. The firm was known as Johnstone, Jupe & Co and this is the stamp or engraved signature that appears on tables made between 1835 and 1840. By 1840 Robert Jupe had left the partnership to form his own firm in 47 Welbeck Street London, and his name alone usually appears on later tables with this mechanism.
The swivel action top is formed of eight spin-out triangular segments
Jupe patented the design for a circular expanding dining table with removable segmented top in 1835. Specifications stated 'an improved expanding table, so constructed that the sections composing the surface may be caused to diverge from a common centre and that the spaces caused thereby may be filled up by inserting leaves or filling pieces'.
The Jupe brilliance was to design an innovative capstan-revolving post and arms, whereby a table that was normally 173cm/68” in diameter could be expanded into a 246cm/97” diameter. To expand the table, the homeowner had to turn the tabletop 90 degrees anti-clockwise.
Jupe table, with its eight additional leaves in place.
The crescent-shaped iron bars moved the slices outward; between each wedge, a gap shaped like a collar stiffener appeared, with a point at one end. Into each of these eight spaces the homeowner slid a leaf made of the same wood as the original table top. Eight spaces and eight leaves, giving comfortable seating for 14 people.
When the eight extra leaves were not being used, they were inserted vertically into a baize lined leaf cabinet, made of the same timber as the table.
No one knows how many he made, or how many survive. But the auction houses agree that an original Jupe table is quite rare; some have fetched up to £115,000 at auction and one rare sale realised £322,00 (Christie's London 2006 and 2010)!
Cabinet with the spare leaves.