18 April 2021




Antique desks and bureaux - history of the antique desk

The antique desks, or bureaux, that we know today began to appear from the middle to the late 17th century. Early examples were basically a writing box or slope which originally was placed on a stand. It then progressed to being placed on a chest of drawers and the modern desk was more or less born. Early examples were usually made of walnut and the desk’s popularity began to flourish during the reign of Queen Anne when elaborate interiors, sometimes with secret compartments, were incorporated into the top part of the antique desk and the whole was displayed when the fall front of the desk came down and settled on pull out rests.

Other types of desk, such as the pedestal desk, essentially evolved from a kneehole dressing table. It became popular in the early 18th century and again like the early bureau, took its form from a chest of drawers but with a small central recess. For comfort the whole thing was expanded to accommodate both knees, essentially with the chest of drawers split into two, and a large flat desk top.  The popularity of this type of antique desk coincided with the introduction of mahogany into Britain as a replacement for walnut, which had been overused during Queen Anne’s reign and was now scarce. Chippendale’s designs became synonymous with the pedestal desk, as did provincial cabinet makers such as Robert Gillow of Lancaster who used Chippendale’s drawings as inspiration for his own pieces. Gillow was also the first to make another variation of antique desk called the Davenport for a Captain Davenport. This design was much smaller than the twin pedestal, a solid piece rather than split with side drawers, and had stylised front pillars which were often highly carved.

Other examples of the antique desk such the roll top, also from earlier rococo or neo-classical designs, were being revived during the interwar period of the 20th century. The original roll top design had challenged early cabinet makers like Emile-Jacques Ruhlman to produce exquisite examples using macassar-ebony for the roll top. At Christian Davies Antiques, here in Preston, Lancashire, we have many fine examples of these many varieties of period and revival antique desks.We are perfectly located for antiques collectors in Lancashire and Cumbria.

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