Antique Writing Desks

06/07/2022     Furniture

The earliest writing desks were called bureaus, they were usually sloped writing surfaces which could fold out using a hinged mechanism and initially the sloped surface would rest on pillar legs. While these were practical and saved space when it was needed there was soon a need for a more permanent purpose-made writing desk.

In the 1690s furniture makers began to fuse the design of the chest of drawers with the writing slope so that the lower half would often consist of two short over two long drawers and the fold out slope which sat on a pull-out stand. These are probably the most common style of antique desks and still appear regularly for sale at auction and in antique shops.

They were closely followed during the Queen Anne period by another style of writing desk which was more refined and better tailored for comfort, this was the kneehole writing table which still maintained that look of a chest of drawers on the lower half, only now there was a space in the middle and a tier of drawers on either side with one above the knee space. This was a very popular style of desk in the 17th century in France and later throughout Europe and was produced in huge numbers right throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, alongside several other styles such as davenports, regency style desks, library tables and flat-topped or ‘bureau plat’ writing desks.

When we think of the most typical writing desk, the form that comes to mind is that of a partner or pedestal writing desk, this is essentially an adaption of the kneehole desk, only the sloped fold out surface is changed to a flat-topped table surface.


Lot 562 in our July 2022 auction is a stunning piece of furniture, A large 19th century French flame mahogany turned bureau with fitted short drawers, the fold out centre revealing a leather inset topped surface and compartments above three graduated drawers raised on four turned, fluted tapered supports. Beautifully made and entirely functional writing desks like these lend an elegance and class to any room, they are the perfect workspace with all the organizational and practical space you could want whilst enjoying the exceptional craftsmanship and the feel of an antique piece of furniture.

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