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The Pedestal – Most English of All Antique Desks

By Christian Davies Subscribe to RSS | July 27th 2012 | Views:

Even in this modern technological age, antique desks have maintained their popularity, with the pedestal desk being probably the most popular and enduring of all styles.

The pedestal desk has its origins in the kneehole dressing tables of the early 17th Century and rapidly evolved into many different forms. Practical, functional and attractive to look at, these antique desks are used for everything from crafts to doing the company accounts, fitting effortlessly into any modern home or office environment.

Early pedestal desks

Although writing furniture dates back to at least the Middle Ages, the first true European desks appeared in the Netherlands and France in the late 1600s, when the portable writing slope and chest-of-drawers were married together to create the drop-fronted bureau. While this was an excellent idea that evolved into many different styles, especially on the continent, in England, the Queen Anne period (1702 – 1714) saw a different form develop – the kneehole writing table. This was the forerunner of the pedestal desk, which made its first appearance in the mid-18th Century.

Resembling the kneehole dressing tables from which they were derived, early pedestal desks were small pieces of furniture with a cramped kneehole space, encompassing a central cupboard. Although they were very different to the substantial library desks of Chippendale’s Director, the basic elements of a flat-topped writing surface - two stacks of drawers and a further frieze of drawers above the kneehole - were all in place.

How the pedestal desk evolved

The earliest desks were made from walnut and English oak, the latter being used mainly for the carcasses and drawer linings. Solid mahogany antique desks date from the mid-18th Century, when wood began to be imported from the colonies. Satinwood and rosewood were used from the mid-19th Century, with oak becoming popular again towards the 1890s. It should be noted that many Victorian desks are veneered, as opposed to 18th Century examples, which used solid wood and were therefore more costly to produce. As a result, 18th Century desks are much rarer today.

The design of antique desks changed too, with the delicately shaped bracket feet and hidden castors of the 18th Century giving way to moulded plinths and bun feet in the Victorian period. Leather inlaid tops were introduced in the 1850s, although sometimes a leather-lined writing shelf or extendable book rest was used instead. Drawer handles were predominantly brass, although wood was also used later on.

Variations in pedestal desk design

The ‘partners desk’ takes the form of two pedestal desks placed back to back, with drawers or cupboards on both sides so two people can work together. Introduced by Thomas Chippendale, originally for use in the libraries of great houses, they are best suited to large offices. However the Victorian roll-top, which utilises a cylinder compartment and twin pedestals, should fit easily into any home.

There are many antique desks available today, with a great number having evolved from the early kneehole design. From elaborate gilded Rococo designs to elegant Sheraton Revival pieces, pedestal desks are a useful and attractive addition to any home.

Christian Davies - About Author:
Christian Davies is a second generation antiques dealer and has over 23 years experience in high quality antiques furniture, such as antique desks. You can see more here

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