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Antique Desk Furniture Historical Comparison

Oct 11, 2007
I finally realized it is not a Western desk; it is an English desk from the early 20th century. The clues are the wood itself and the hardware. English oak from this period has a distinctively different grain from the Golden Oak of American furniture of this period. The oversized hardware is also distinctly English. The odd pattern of shading was caused by someone stripping the original dark finish but giving the hardware areas a wide berth, creating the like and dark patterns in the wood as the result of really poor workmanship.

A "dresser w/desk pull down" is a 20th century recreation of a variation of the 19th century "butler's desk". Legend has it that the butler in an upper class 19th century household was never seen to sit. Since one of his duties was also to keep the household accounts he had to have a desk but he did not sit there. It was designed so that he could stand and do his paperwork. The desk unit was incorporated into a chest of drawers to conserve space. That piece is in fact made of maple, probably in the 1950s or 1960s.

Bodart Furniture Co. was in business in Grand Rapids, from 1949 to 1973. Bodart made quality reproductions of antique European furniture forms, including desks, tables, chests and upholstered pieces. As they obviously are not in business now, you may have difficulty finding the matching chairs. But I'll bet you can find lots of nice chairs that would match this table fine. They don't necessarily have to be Bodart chairs.

The first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a man known by the name of John Winthrop. Born in Surrey, England, legend says Winthrop came to Massachusetts with an original piece of furniture that instantly gained favor with the colonists: a slanted drop-front desk. After the desk became popular, it was re-named in honor of its original owner.

While the story is nice, there is little truth to it. Governor Winthrop was a real man who ruled Massachusetts until his death in 1649, but this was a good 50 years before the first drop-front desks appeared in his native country. The famous curves attributed to the Gov. Winthrop style weren't created until the mid-1700s, when Thomas Chippendale designed the first desk of this variety.

Although many members of the public believe this style of furniture was named for a specific man, looking at this story from a historical perspective, it is obvious Governor Winthrop never owned the piece of furniture attributed to him. While Thomas Chippendale technically invented the design, he never labeled it as a "Gov. Winthrop," either.

The answer to this riddle rests with the Winthrop Furniture Company of Boston, who created a new model of the desk in 1924 and called it the "Gov. Winthrop." The name is now a common part of furniture vocabulary, and has increased the popularity of other furniture of the same design, commonly known as the "Gov. Winthrop" style. Many different types of antique furniture can be found today bearing the name Winthrop due to this unique design.

We installed a humidifier for the winter, which certainly helps the furniture, but summer we cannot control, as we have no AC. I am not familiar with Arizona, but I take it its very dry there, so yes putting some humidity back into the air should help. Other than that, keep all wood furniture out of direct sun and heat sources. A good paste waxing with bra wax for instance is about the only thing I can recommend to use on this piece. Apparently all pieces made with a particular type of imported mahogany carried the label you described.

The desk is from the late 19th century or perhaps even the early 20th century and is part of the great "Golden Oak" period. The style is very similar overall to the famous Larkin desks of the turn of the century with the open shelf in front below the drop. It could be an American piece but the decorative motif is more European or English. Also the desk is made of flat cut oak and shows none of the quarter cut oak generally seen on American pieces of this era. The finish has been redone and it looks more recent than the 1960s.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant at http://www.SellTheAntiques.com/. Sell The Antiques is a community of various independent antique sellers from around the world. Each antique seller represents a unique style of products. If you have antiques to sell, click here to create an Antiques Account.
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