A POTTED HISTORY OF WRITING FURNITURE
Concern over the comfort,
and indeed the integrity of the scribe did not materialise in England until
the 17th Century. Until then he was considered a mere artisan who performed
his work for the church or nobility. It is therefore not surprising that the
first 'Deske' was in fact merely a sloping box on which the scribe
could write and in which he could store his writing tools. These portable
writing boxes were never larger than 3ft wide with a sloping hinged top which
was placed on a table or bench when in use. (The first recorded mention of
a Deske appears in Palladius' De Re Rustica in about 1450. A
As in most English furniture of the period, oak was the most commonly used wood but fashions began to change following the Restoration in 1660 when not only did walnut replace oak as the material of choice but writing furniture was now more usually fitted with bases. Slowly, the sloping box developed to have its own stand. This was first removable, where the cabinetmaker disguised the join, and later became fixed. This sloping box on stand is now commonly known as the 'Clerk's Desk' whilst a sloping desk with drawers below is now known as a 'Bureau'. At first the term bureaux described other types of furniture such as low chests of drawers and dressing tables but by 1700 the term was finally accepted as describing writing furniture.
The 'Bureaux Table' arrived in England from Europe in about 1660. Originally the term described a surface supported by two turned legs at the rear and four at the front, two of which swung out as gate legs to support a flap. From France in the late 17th Century came the 'Bureau-Cylinder' and 'Roll-Top Bureau' now more usually referred to as a 'Roll-Top' or 'Cylinder Desk'. The Cylinder Desk has a rounded lid which rotates into the desk whilst the 'Tambour' or 'Roll-Top' has its top enclosed by a sliding curved lid made from a number of wooden slats glued to a cloth base which allows it to roll down.