Historical Comparison of Antique Desk Furniture

I finally realized that this is not a western desktop; It is an English writing 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 from this period. The oversized hardware is also distinctly English. The weird shading pattern was caused by someone removing the original dark finish but giving the hardware areas a wide berth, creating similar, dark patterns in the wood as a result of really poor workmanship.

A “drop-top vanity desk” is a 20th-century recreation of a 19th-century variation on the “butler’s desk.” Legend has it that the butler of a 19th-century upper-class house was never seen sitting down. Since one of his duties was also to keep the household accounts, he needed 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 save space. In fact, that piece is made of maple, probably in the 50’s or 60’s.

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, dressers, and upholstered pieces. Since they’re obviously not in business right now, you might have a hard time finding the matching chairs. But I bet you can find many nice chairs to match this beautiful table. 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 has it that Winthrop arrived in Massachusetts with an original piece of furniture that instantly won favor with the colonists: a slanted drop-front desk. After the desk became popular, it was renamed after its original owner.

While the story is enjoyable, 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 counters appeared in his native country. The famous curves attributed to Gob. The Winthrop style was not created until the middle of the 18th century, when Thomas Chippendale designed the first desk of this variety.

Although many members of the public believe that this style of furniture was named after a specific man, looking at this story from a historical perspective, it is obvious that Governor Winthrop never owned the piece of furniture attributed to him. While Thomas Chippendale technically invented the design, he did not label it “Gov. Winthrop” either.

The answer to this conundrum remains in the hands of the Winthrop Furniture Company of Boston, which created a new model of the desk in 1924 and named it “Gov. Winthrop.” The name is now a common part of the 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 Winthrop name because of this unique design.

We installed a humidifier for the winter, which certainly helps the furniture, but in the summer we can’t control it, since we don’t have air conditioning. I’m not familiar with Arizona, but I’m guessing it’s pretty dry there, so yeah, putting some moisture back into the air should help. Other than that, keep all wooden furniture out of direct sunlight and heat sources. A good bra waxing paste, for example, is the only thing I can recommend for use on this piece. Apparently all pieces made from a particular type of imported mahogany carried the label you described.

The desk is from the late 19th or perhaps even early 20th century and is part of the great “Golden Oak” period. The style is very similar overall to the famous turn-of-the-century Larkin desks with the shelf open at the 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 does not display the quarter-cut oak usually seen in American pieces from this era. The finish has been redone and looks newer than the 1960s.

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