The Writing Desk's EvolutionFrom the early years of scribes to the models of today the evolution of the writing desk has been important in adapting and designing new desks to meet the needs of the writer. The evolution of the writing desk really took off during the Victorian era in Great Britain and later periods in the United States. Many contemporary writing desks are based off of antique designs.
The first writing desks weren’t really recognizable as desks. It was essentially a portable box with a sloped hinge lid containing the scribe’s tools of the trade. On location this box was placed on a table or platform for the scribe to write. The first mention of a desk wasn’t found until 1450.
Around 1660 the scribe’s desk became affixed to a stand, first temporary then permanent. This was the basic model of a clerk’s desk. Adding drawers to the clerk’s desk gave way to the design known as the bureau. From late 17th Century France came the roll-top bureau or cylinder desk with a roll down top made from wood slats glued to cloth as opposed to the sloped lid.
Near 1700 came the next phase in the evolution of the writing desk known as the knee-hole writing desk. Usually containing a cupboard in the back of the knee-hole it allowed the writer comfort, freedom of movement and plenty of storage space for writing supplies and personal effects. It was around this time as well that desks took on more decorative ornamentation.
During the Regency period of England a cabinet maker named Chippendale introduced the Serpentine Fronted Knee-hole Desk which became the branching off point of several later designs. As writing desks became common in Europe each country adapted their own style of writing desk, and some designs were developed in the United States, most notable the Shaker design, and the Arts and Crafts design which noted a reversal in the ornate decorating of desks and called for a more back to basics style.
While writing desks have changed over the centuries the certainty is that they have adapted to meet the needs of the writer and it is certain that the evolution of writing desks will continue into the future.