Rare Tibetan Small Folding Table (Tepchog)

17th/18th C, pine or cypress, mineral colors, gilding.  Important as not many folding tables survived; in excellent condition.

Folding tables were perhaps one of the earliest of Tibetan furniture.  The Tibetan people have traditionally been herdsmen, moving from place to place looking for pasture.  Nomadic Tibetans were more likely to carry objects in bags made of wool, and occasionally a small altar table and various religious items with them so, when they stop, they could set up an altar for worship in their tents, sitting on the floor or cushions.  Folding tables called “tepchog” are ubiquitous to Tibet.

This is a classic Tibetan low table.  It consists of a solid top and three hinged sides, which allow the table to be picked up and folded flat for carrying or for storage.  Generally the top of a folding table is plain, with the sides usually decorated with carving or painting.  A highly decorated folding table like this one, with the top and sides highly painted and gilded, was most likely used by monks from a monastery richly endowed by the citizenry.  Monks answer requests to visit homes to give blessings or chase away evil spirits.  Its practical for them to carry a small folding table with which they can set up an impromptu altar table to support religious texts while they are being read; it would also support a cup of yak butter tea and a bell and ‘dorji’ (a thunderbolt religious motif representing the indestructible state of the Buddhist faith).  The folding table could be easily closed up and carried away after use.

This richly and colorfully decorated table, with carved trailing floral designs on the front and sides, and two medallions with a dragon in each, could very well be commissioned for use by an individual who commanded respect, and who might have used it not only for tea service but also as a Buddha statue support in the private chapel of his home.

Since the Chinese occupation, these small folding tables are rarely in use.  Higher tables, along with chairs, make them obsolete.  They are becoming collectors’ items.