It's in the cards All the evidence points to this: The card table -- that shaky but dependable piece of Americana -- is not yet on its last legs.

March 23, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

A friend spent some time recently looking for a card table. He visited a few stores. He called half a dozen more around town. No luck. Card tables don't seem to be as popular as they once were, or as readily available.

This is not a development of which wide notice has been taken.

"My gosh, why haven't I noticed this," exclaimed Nancy High in the tone of somebody just let in on an unhappy secret. "You always used to see them in stores."

High is with the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, in High Point, N.C. Maybe she thinks she ought to be aware of things like this, even though none of the members of her trade group make the lowly card table.

High Point, N.C., is known as "the furniture capital of the world," if only in High Point. But apparently it is not flush with card tables.

A card table is a mundane item, useful as a hammer, common as a nail. Most of them have the stability of Jell-O. They are built to support light loads -- playing cards, poker chips, a few drinks. They held the punch bowl at parties, the potato salad, chips and dips.

They serve this function probably more often than the one they were created for. But they are never called punch or chips and dips tables. In some places they are called bridge tables, but that is only a further refinement on the original definition. Card table.

Actually, the card table is so mundane most dictionaries don't even list it. It falls into the lexical crack between card strip ("cotton waste made of cleanings from the carding machine") and card teasel (the wild teasel), an herb.

Card tables are recommended by their convenience. They fold and store easily. Somebody always had one to lend you, usually relatives. Sometimes the local undertaker would come through, and supply folding chairs as well, if you had company.

Several of the people asked about card tables for this important article thought of them as objects related to their past. "I haven't seen any folding tables since I was 5 years old at my grandmother's house," recalled Roland Buckingham ("like the palace") of Selbyville, Del.

Buckingham is part owner of Progressive Fiberglass Products, which is included in the Thomas Register. This is a compilation of all manufacturers in the United States and what they make. Progressive Fiberglass is listed as one of only 19 companies that make card tables. But it doesn't. Never has.

"Who'd want a fiberglass card table?" Buckingham asks. Nor did the first five of the other companies contacted make them, after which the reporter got tired of calling.

"We make white oak Adirondack chairs, not card tables," said Ed Schmidt of Budoff Classic Furniture, in Monticello, N.Y. Unasked, he added: "Quite honestly, I have not seen any card tables around."

Demographic trends

This suggests either sloppy referencing or a diminution of card-table manufacturers, card tables and possibly card players well. But none of these is a foregone conclusion. There are alternative explanations. Maybe people aren't entertaining so much or inviting so many guests to dinner that extra table space is needed. It could suggest smaller families.

And there's another possibility. According to Susan Sprunk, senior vice president for marketing at Caldor, card tables are a seasonal item. "People don't tend to buy them except at the holidays. They're a great fourth-quarter item."

Does that mean relief comes in November? Does it mean there is no shortage of card tables, as we all feared? Maybe so, but there does seem to be a demographic shift that bears watching.

Neil Mann, general manager of the Monroe Table Co. of Colfax, Iowa, also doesn't think there's a shortage. Business is good. His company turns out 2,000 to 3,000 folding tables annually.

"Florida is real good for bridge tables, especially in the retirement centers," Mann says. "Lots of bridge players in Florida."

Monroe tables are sturdier than the card tables of common memory, those shaky little things with legs of tubular metal, each of which open independently, with a surface of plastic or fake leather, in some cases over heavy cardboard.

Those are the card tables of yesteryear, the "el cheapo ones," as Mann referred to them. One tends to think of them as representing the essence of card table-ness, so to speak. But, in fact, card tables once enjoyed a more elevated station in the panoply of American furniture. George Washington had one, a fine little wooden job with Queen Anne legs.

But, when most people think of card tables they think of the kind mentioned above. They are still with us and -- you better believe it! -- doing well in the Heartland.

"They are not a product of the past," said Sheila Idlewine with some indignation at the suggestion from the voguish East that they might be. "I have three of them at home. Each one of my kids has one."

She lives in Westport, Ind., and works at the COSCO company which manufactures -- what else? -- card tables. "Most people who work here have at least one," she said.

Down in Greenville, Tenn., things are going well at Meco Corp., which describes itself as "one of the top three domestic suppliers of this product."

Meco makes two sizes, 34 inches by 34 inches, and 38 inches by 38 inches. Both have vinyl-covered hardboard tops. They come in various colors. Suggested retail prices are $37.44 and $58.26, respectively. The legs fold out independently, of course. Walmart has them, and Hechinger.

All the above is offered as a reassurance that the reports of the demise of the American card table have been greatly exaggerated. In case anybody wanted to know.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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