The earliest form of antique desk is the antique bureau; it appeared in France ca. 1650 and was a fall fronted cabinet. Soon after similar desks appeared in England and these had gate legs to support the fall fronts when open. The insides had drawers, pigeon holes and sliding bible wells for concealing important papers. The carcasses were usually made from oak or pine and had figured veneers like burr walnut, or oyster veneers. By the 1700s the gate leg supports were replaced by sliding lopers at each side, the lower section was generally separate from the writing section, standing on turned or Queen Anne cabriole legs.
Around the 1720s the bureau sections were combined with the chest of drawers, and bracket feet replaced bun feet. Veneers used included walnut, burr walnut and provincial craftsmen used solid oak and elm. Decoration came in several forms using herringbone inlay, stringing or cross banding. Mouldings on the fronts of the dust boards between drawers were replaced after ca 1740 by cock beaded edges on the drawers. This form continued throughout the 18th century except the main timber used in the Georgian and Victorian periods was mahogany.
The bureau cabinet or also known as the secretarie, with the interior of shelves, drawers, and pigeon holes enclosed by doors, was a development of the basic bureau but had a cabinet on top. They had architectural features such as columns and pilasters, as well as drawers, cupboards, divisions for documents and secret compartments. The bureau cabinet evolved into the bureau bookcase with glazed cupboard doors and wonderfully fitted interiors.
More intellectual activities prevailed and the library was an important statement of any educated gentleman’s commitment to self-improvement and learning. Fine rooms demanded larger antique desks and the major makers and designers of the age, included Thomas Chippendale and Thomas Sheraton who responded with notable and original pieces. As time went on paper became cheaper and education improved, so the need arose for less grand pieces and finer desks were made for the lady. A new range of antique desk was produced with Neo classical designs, made in exotic woods such as satin wood, which suited to this lighter style and many were with fine parquetry inlay.
The antique pedestal desk or ‘kneehole desk’ had two uses, a dressing table and for writing. They first appeared in France and the Netherlands in the second half of the 17th century. Early examples were commissioned by members of the French court as luxury items, usually mounted with moulded brass borders and elaborate escutcheons or ormolu keyhole mounts. Wooden Georgian desks from 1760 to 1820 were larger and constructed in solid mahogany, standing on shaped bracket feet and more comfortable to sit at than the earlier smaller models. Slightly later Regency examples used more exotic timbers such as rosewood, calamander, amboyna and ebony decoration or fine brass inlay.
The late Georgian era was the first time the larger antique partners desk was seen with working drawers and cupboards on both sides. These larger pieces were mainly used in offices like banks, solicitors, accountants and other professions that were high up in society, this is why they are usually constructed from superb quality timbers as no expense would have been spared.
The Victorian era continued with similar Victorian desks with the same pedestal designs but introduced more elaborate decoration such as satinwood, marquetry inlay and painted decorations. The Victorian cabinet maker did experiment more and created new shapes like the Kidney, bow and the Cylinder front. Unique new designs were introduced like the dickens desk; it got its name as it is believed Charles dickens wrote his works on this type of writing furniture.
The antique davenport was made by the renowned furniture makers Gillows of Lancaster in the George the III period and was first built and commissioned for captain davenport. Most have drawers that open at one side and have fixed dummy drawers on the opposite side with a writing slope lid.
The Edwardian cabinet maker had new machines so were able to make some very nice new features on Edwardian desks, such as the roll top, a tambour front which was slatted and came with a locking mechanism that locks all the drawers when closed. They also copied earlier designs such as the Carlton House writing desk, originally designed in the 18th century for the Prince of Wales by the renowned English cabinet maker and furniture designer George Hepplewhite. It is named after Carlton House, the London residence of the Prince of Wales at the time.
Below are more examples of antique desks that we have sold, we often get lovely examples in stock but if any style looks of interest let us know and we can try to find you something similar.
Superb Quality Antique Victorian Mahogany Pedestal Desk. Dating from around 1870 in the Victorian period this antique pedestal desk is made from mahogany and is of superb quality. It has a rectangular moulded top above a central drawer over the knee hole flanked by two pedestals. Each pedestal contains four graduating drawers displaying turned mahogany knobs and stands on a moulded plinth with castors. The central drawer also contains an old label of a cabinet maker and restorer, “Alderton & Harvey” of Brighton, who we assume is part of the desks history in some way.
Quality Victorian Walnut Antique Large Dickens Desk. Dating from around 1890 this is a grand example of an antique walnut Dickens desk from the Victorian period. It also comes with an added bit of history, an original note from a mother to her son offering the desk as a gift to him. The desk itself has two upper banks of drawers, with brass handles, connected by an attractive turned gallery. With a tapering writing slope concealing a large storage compartment and several pigeon holes and three, original tooled, leather writing inserts, it offers substantial work and storage space. The lower section has two pedestals each with four graduating mahogany lined drawers with reeded edges and original brass handles. The antique desk stands on moulded plinths with brown porcelain castors. The back is finished so even though the design lends itself to be placed against a wall it also offers the option to act as a room divider and be placed in the centre of a room.
Arts & Crafts Solid Walnut Antique Pedestal Desk. Dating from around 1890 in the Victorian period this Arts & Crafts style pedestal desk is constructed from solid walnut. The rectangular moulded top contains a faux green leather writing insert and sits above a central drawer over knee hole. Each pedestal has four graduating oak lined drawers with moulded edges and the original brass Arts & Crafts style handles. The desk stands on a plain plinth, has panelled sides and a finished back so maybe placed in the centre of a room if so desired.
Georgian Oak Antique Bureau. This Georgian antique oak bureau dates from around 1790 and is in lovely condition for a piece that is over 220 years old. It has a moulded fall front which when opened reveals an interior that contains a central cupboard door decorated with beautiful inlaid banding and having a key and working lock. The cupboard itself is flanked by two secret slides that are fronted by columnar designed decorations and inside can be found a secret drawer. The remainder of the interior contains six small oak lined drawers with brass handles and six pigeon holes. The lower section has four graduating drawers with moulded edges and pierced brass handles and key escutcheons. The bureau stands on shaped bracket feet and is a wonderful medium shade of oak. At some point this antique bureau has been lovingly restored leaving it in remarkable condition but still oozing character and charm only achieved from age and use.
Large Antique Mahogany Desk with Ball & Claw Feet. Dating from around 1920 this large antique pedestal desk is constructed from mahogany and, rather unusually, is finished with ball and claw feet. The rectangular moulded top has a red tooled faux leather writing insert above a central draw over knee hole. Each pedestal has four graduating drawers with moulded edges and the original brass handles. With reeded sides and a finished back it is a striking desk that may be place in the centre of a room if so desired. The unusual ball and claw feet add that extra ‘something’ making it slightly different from the traditional pedestal desk design.
Quality Victorian Walnut Antique Twin Pedestal Desk. Dating from around 1880 in the Victorian period this antique walnut twin pedestal desk is of a lovely quality. Showing signs of the emerging Arts & Crafts movement in its design it has a more unique look than many of its contemporaries. The rectangular moulded top has a tooled red leather writing insert above a central drawer over knee hole. Each pedestal has four graduating drawers displaying the original brass handles and stands on a plain plinth with castors.
Unusually Proportioned Antique Victorian Pedestal Desk in Walnut. Dating from around 1890 in the Victorian period this walnut antique pedestal desk has rather unusual proportions, appearing more square than rectangular. The moulded top has rounded corners with a tooled leather writing insert. Two mahogany lined drawers sit below the top, spanning the width of the desk. Each pedestal has three graduating mahogany lined drawers all displaying the original silver gilt pierced brass handles. All the drawers have working locks, and are operated by a single key. The desk has an unusual locking mechanism for the drawers, they automatically lock when closed and must always be opened using the key. Definitely a desk for the security conscious!
George III Antique Mahogany Bureau. Dating from around 1760 this is a delightfully proportioned antique mahogany bureau from the George III period. It has a beautifully figured moulded fall front which when opened reveals a green baize writing insert and several small mahogany lined drawers with brass handles. The lower section has two over two graduating oak lined drawers all of which are cock beaded and have the original brass handles and key escutcheons. This delightful bureau has relatively small proportions, stands on shaped bracket feet and still retains its original back boards. This is a quality bureau evidently made to the highest standards from the best timbers by a true craftsman.
Quality Walnut Antique Victorian Pedestal Desk. This quality antique walnut pedestal desk dates from the Victorian period, circa 1890. It has a rectangular moulded top with central green tooled leather writing insert. A central mahogany lined drawer sits above an unusually wide, but very practical, kneehole. The two pedestals each have four graduating mahogany lined drawers with original brass handles and are framed by reeded mouldings. The desk stands on a moulded plinth, has a finished back providing more choice for positioning and splits into three sections aiding removal.
Huge Art Deco Golden Oak Antique Desk. This superb Art Deco oak desk is a fantastic example of its type from around the 1920’s. Its huge proportions make it a statement piece and also a very practical workstation. The large rectangular top sits on two pedestals, each with four graduating drawers all having the original oak handles. A central drawer spans the large knee hole which provides ample room for sitting at. The sides of the desk are panelled as is the back which is finished so may be placed in the centre of a room if so desired. The desk, although large, does split into three sections so is easier to transport than it first may appear.