From the 18th & 19th Century
Literacy rates increased enormously in England after circa 1600, and with this a demand grew for writing-related furniture. This category has been very much sought after in the best antique shops and online antique stores. At boxhouse-antiques.com we always do our best to carry a comprehensive selection, especially for customers looking for antique writing tables and office furniture. Religious institutions pioneered reading and writing, and it is in monastic environments that the earliest evidence is found. It is however extremely unlikely you will encounter genuine pieces from this very early period. Portable boxes served as receptacles for books and writing implements up to about 1650, but are rarely mentioned in contemporary inventories. It was with the accession of Charles ll that an increasingly literate population looked for specialist furniture to house and use reading/ writing related items. From about 1650 onwards the bureau (in a recognisable form) appears. From that date forward these items appear in larger quantity, and remain on offer in most antique stores. The word 'secretary' is used more in the US. This then becomes the word 'secretaire' throughout most of Europe. Over the years the 'escritoire' (derived from the Latin 'scriptorium') has often featured in our inventories. Generally these date from the late-17th to the early-18th centuries, and are often encountered with fine veneers. These will have a hinged fall to serve as a writing surface. This form largely went out of fashion in England after 1720, but continued to be popular in continental Europe. Perhaps the most sought after desk would be the flat top partner's desk, most often to be found in our inventory with a leather top. The best of these (period) items would date from 1750-1820. The 'bureau plat' (flat bureau) was popularised in France during the 18th century, with the major ebénistes producing spectacular examples. Nb. It seems likely that the word desk derives from the latin 'desca' or 'table to write on'.
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