In the 18th century trays were often mounted on legs or folding stands and used, in Thomas Sheraton’s words, ‘as a sideboard for the butler, who has the care of the liquor at a gentleman’s table’; others served as dumb waiters, and for tea. This composite form of furniture first appears in the early Georgian period. Shortly after 1750 mahogany trays were made for butlers’ use, set on the familiar X-shaped folding stand. The sides of the trays were sometimes pierced, either with cut-out handles of fretwork. Honduras mahogany would be used for the sides, but the base would be made of Spanish or Cuban mahogany as it is harder and so more resistant to dents from glasses and decanters.
In the Regency period the folding stands became more decorative and were often turned and ringed. The trays evolved too, with the oval form becoming popular: these had hinged edges which stand up to make a rectangular tray, such as in this beautiful example from the 1800s. The hinges are beautifully made: stopped, and also haunched, so that the sides do not simply fall down again. Butler’s trays are useful pieces of furniture that bring slightly more height to a room, and can be folded up and put away.