These desks generally shared a basic shape and function, though specific designs and features varied throughout the century. A typical 19th century writing desk featured a sloped writing surface that concealed tiers of drawers, plus compartments and pigeonholes for organizing letters and papers. The sloped surface of these desks often had hinges that allowed users to fold it back to reveal compartments hidden below.
Early Desks Antique Office Desks Desks with flat tops at the height of tables and drawers were common throughout the period since the s. In addition to providing writing surfaces and drawers, some desks provided pigeonholes for documents and slots for ledgers. This exhibit is limited to desks of the latter types that were marketed in the U.
Desks with writing surfaces, drawers, pigeonholes, and slots for ledgers existed in England by the end of the 17th century. Wigfall, Chicago both Hagley Museum and Library.
Pigeon-holes and ledger case in desk similar to the one pictured immediately above Cylinder Desks: There is a distinction between cylinder desks and roll-top desks a. On cylinder desks, the top that swings into place to cover the writing surface is not flexible, and the track is therefore a circular arc.
On roll-top desks, the top that rolls into place is flexible, and the track typically has an S shape, although in some cases it is a circular arc. Talbott states that roll-top desks were introduced in the US in the s, and that "by the s the most commonly illustrated desk was the cylinder, or roll top, desk.
Talbott's references to roll-top desks must be references to cylinder desks. The earliest ad we have seen for cylinder desks dates from immediately to left. The earliest illustrations we have seen of offices with cylinder desks date from far right and Cylinder desks were popular in France for at least the following century.
InFred H. Cutler, of Buffalo, NY, was awarded a patent for a desk with a flexible top that pulled up rather than down see patent illustration immediately to right.
We do not know whether this design was manufactured, but it appears to be a predecessor of a roll-top desk. Notice that Fred H. These desks were exhibited at the Centennial Exposition.
Arguably these were roll-top desks, although the word "roll-top" was not used to describe them. At a minimum, they were precursors of the roll-top desk. The earliest illustration and use of the term "roll top desk" that we have found are on the billhead below.
The term "roll top desk" appears in the handwritten line. Cutler see two rows abovewas awarded the earliest patent we have found for a true roll-top desk although the patent did not use the term "roll-top".
Abner Cutler filed the application for this patent in Roll-top Secretary Desk, Geo. The earliest use of the term "roll-top desk" that we have found was in The earliest illustration we have seen of an office with a roll-top desk dates from Bureau: Bureau, in the United States, a chest of drawers; in Europe a writing desk, usually with a hinged writing flap that rests at a sloping angle when closed and, when opened, reveals a tier of pigeonholes, small drawers, and sometimes a small cupboard.
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