The beginnings of the desk can date back to 1440 when literacy grew across Europe. Before the revolutionary invention of the press during the Renaissance, scribes would sit for hours copying manuscripts and books. It was during this time that tables with a sloped top were crafted for the very purpose of writing.

By the end of the 17th century, writing tables were a must, not only were they instrumental for writing, their impeccable designs with concealed drawers were essential for a scholar to keep his research hidden, or indeed for business men to hide their affairs.

A William & Mary Desk on Frame, hard pine, probably Southern, c.1690-1730The Stanley Weiss Collection A William & Mary Desk on Frame, hard pine, probably Southern, c.1690-1730
The Stanley Weiss Collection

The William & Mary period saw furniture makers were redesigning the desk in a variety of exciting ways. Exquisitely carved legs and edges were all the rage. As well as being aesthetically outstanding, desks crafted during this time were a triumph of design. Some featured tops that could be removed whilst others had flip-top designs. By the 1800s, the schoolmaster desk, which survived well into the 20th and even 21st century, was designed.

American Victorian oak and iron school desk, 19th centuryAustin Auction Gallery American Victorian oak and iron school desk, 19th century
Austin Auction Gallery

But when it came to formal writing desks, no body did it quite like the French. The French became the kings of the bureau desk, designing the Lady's Desk, or Tall Desk; Bureau Plat; Bureau Mazarin and Tambour desk.

A Rare diminutive maple Queen Anne Lady's / Child's deskThe Stanley Weiss Collection A Rare diminutive maple Queen Anne Lady's / Child's desk
The Stanley Weiss Collection

French Fruitwood Bureau Plat, circa 1800Decaso French Fruitwood Bureau Plat, circa 1800
Decaso

Bureau Mazarin in blackened wood with brass decorationHerbette Bureau Mazarin in blackened wood with brass decoration
Herbette

An example of the kneehole desk which was developed during the Rococo period. Edwardian mahogany tambour covered roll top desk.Nostalgia An example of the kneehole desk which was developed during the Rococo period.
Edwardian mahogany tambour covered roll top desk.
Nostalgia

An example of a Roll-top or Cylinder desk - variation of kneehole A rare Federal mahogany Cylinder Top Desk, attributed to Daniel TrotterThe Stanley Weiss Collection An example of a Roll-top or Cylinder desk - variation of kneehole
A rare Federal mahogany Cylinder Top Desk, attributed to Daniel Trotter
The Stanley Weiss Collection

Desks are a key way to track the development of how roles and jobs within society changed. For example, during the 1800s, the Partners Desk was designed to sit partners working together in the banks of England.

A modern example of the iconic "Kneehole" desk by T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Widdicomb, circa 1948Decaso A modern example of the iconic "Kneehole" desk by T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Widdicomb, circa 1948
Decaso

Original 1930's Donald Deskey for Widdicomb Machine Age Art Deco asymetric deskDecaso Original 1930's Donald Deskey for Widdicomb Machine Age Art Deco asymetric desk
Decaso

By the Art Deco period, desks were made of a variety of materials, including metal and lacquer, with minimalist designs finished with modern materials such as Bakelite and chrome.

L.E Brevilly large boomerang-shaped desk, France, circa 1965Decaso L.E Brevilly large boomerang-shaped desk, France, circa 1965
Decaso

Mid-century masters of designs elevated the desk to whacky new heights, shaping them with curved edges. Scandinavian designers created natural designs with sumptuous Scandi wood, or designed pieces inspired by the industrial revolution.

Steelcase Tanker Desk in marine blue, edited by MontageDecaso Steelcase Tanker Desk in marine blue, edited by Montage
Decaso

"Cobra" desk and stool, designed 1982, made of African MozambiqueDecaso "Cobra" desk and stool, designed 1982, made of African Mozambique
Decaso

Today, in the midst of a technological revolution, only time will tell where the humble desk will go next...

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