Portable Writing Desk thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Portable Writing Desk

1790-1820 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Small table desks or writing boxes were used from medieval times onwards, to hold all that was required for writing and to keep safe private papers. The Museum has a celebrated one from the court of Henry VIII (W.29-1932). By the second half of the eighteenth century, writing was an essential part of many people's lives, as education became available to more people and the postal services improved. Sealed letters were the main form of secure communication. Accessories for writing were naturally produced in every larger numbers, and boxes or desks such as these were often the product of specialist workshops. Sometimes they labelled their work but this box has no such identification. The design is fairly plain but the maker has used the wonderfully figured woods that were favoured in the early nineteenth century.

Object details

Category
Object type
Parts
This object consists of 7 parts.
(Some alternative part names are also shown below)
  • Portable Writing Desk
  • Table Desk
  • Writing Box
  • Pen Tray
  • Drawer
  • Pin
  • Divider
  • Divider
  • Divider
Materials and techniques
Veneered in mahogany, with stringing of boxwood.
Brief description
Small, portable writing desk, or writing box, veneered in mahogany, with stringing in boxwood outlining panels, with outset corners, on the top and sides. The desk opens to provide a writing slope, with a panel of dark blue baize. Above this are recesses for three bottles (ink, sand and a sponge for cleaing a pen) but these are now missing. To the left of these is a compartment for pens, with a removeable pen tray providing a cover to it.
Physical description
Small portable writing desk or writing box, veneered in mahogany, with stringing in boxwood outlining panels, with outset corners, on the top and sides of the desk. The desk opens to create a writing slope, with a panel of dark blue baize. Above this are three recesses for bottles (for ink, for sand and for a small sponge to clean the nib of a pen). To the left of this is a pen compartment, covered with a removeable tray.
Dimensions
  • Height: 15.5cm
  • Width: 37cm
  • Depth: 25cm (Note: Dimensions, taken from departmental catalogue, are for the desk as closed. )
Style
Credit line
Bequest of V.B. Crowther-Benyon F.S.A
Object history
This came to the Museum as part of a bequest by Mr V.B. Crowther-Benyon F.S.A. (See Registered File 52/1176 on Nominal File MA/1/C3396). The Museum nos. for the bequest of furniture run from W.14 to W. 23-1952. He also bequeathed paintings, miniatures and other items, including a beadwork basket to the Museum. The correspondence suggests that all the items had been inherited by Mr Crowther-Benyon.
Summary
Small table desks or writing boxes were used from medieval times onwards, to hold all that was required for writing and to keep safe private papers. The Museum has a celebrated one from the court of Henry VIII (W.29-1932). By the second half of the eighteenth century, writing was an essential part of many people's lives, as education became available to more people and the postal services improved. Sealed letters were the main form of secure communication. Accessories for writing were naturally produced in every larger numbers, and boxes or desks such as these were often the product of specialist workshops. Sometimes they labelled their work but this box has no such identification. The design is fairly plain but the maker has used the wonderfully figured woods that were favoured in the early nineteenth century.
Collection
Accession number
W.17-1952

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Record createdJune 24, 2009
Record URL
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