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Antique desks: how to choose the right one

Antique desks at Hemswell Antique Centres

From drums to Davenports, antique desks are as widely varied as the writers who’ve sat at them. While their original purpose was to provide a stable surface for old-fashioned artistry and literacy, they’re now well-coveted pieces for modern homes and offices. This new-fangled popularity means that antique desks for sale can go for extraordinary amounts at auction - tens of thousands, in fact. When you start looking, you’ll discover this huge range of shapes and sizes - from small and cramped early examples to grand antique mahogany desks crafted for regal country homes. 

Antique pedestal desks: 
Early examples

Following shortly after the kneehole desk - a cupboard-like writing table that appeared in the late 17th-century - antique pedestal desks tend to go up in price depending on their size. Victorian examples of these are common, but a walnut-veneered piece in superb condition can go for up to £6,000. Later antique pedestal desks for sale, such as walnut examples from the early 1900s, can fetch up to £1,500. If crafted by a well-known furniture designer, however, you’re looking at double the price.

Antique partners’ desks: 
Face-to-face furniture

With extra-large tops and drawers at both the back and front, antique partners’ desks allowed two people to work face-to-face. They were first introduced in the UK in the 1800s, taking their name from the fact they were commonly used in law offices - clerk on one side, partner on the other. This clever bit of furniture commands big prices, especially Georgian pieces. This era of antique partners’ desks for sale with a quality colour can go for £20,000 to £40,000. Those dating back to the 19th century are less likely to fetch this much - cruder antique partners’ desks sell for about £1,500. 

Antique library desks: 
Ridiculously valuable pieces

Emerging around the same time as antique pedestal desks, the library table had a leg at each corner and drawers in its frieze. The legs became more and more slender over the years - Georgian examples are highly coveted and can fetch up to six-figure sums for Neoclassical or Egyptian Revival designs. Different types of antique library desks include drum tables - 18th-century pieces with circular or polygonal drawer-fitted tops that can fetch up to £15,000 - and rent tables. The latter were big, bulky safekeeping tables used by landlords to keep tenants’ rent records in. Look out for frieze drawers inscribed with letters from A-Z, number or even days of the week. Quality rent tables can sell for as much as £15,000 at auction.

Antique Davenports: 
Clever contraptions from the 18th century

Very voguish during the Sheraton period (1780-1800), the name of these antique desks derived from a Captain Davenport, who is thought to have commissioned the first piece of this sort. Davenports have sloping leather-lined tops that sit on a narrow upright cabinet with a bank of drawers. They sometimes have a hinged drawer for ink. Many antique mahogany desks were crafted in Davenport-style - particularly good examples can sell for over £5,000 (although £2,500-£3,000 is more common).

The antique ladies’ desk: 
A French inspiration

These feminine antique desks were introduced in France in the 1760s, but Blighty soon took hold of the designs and produced them shortly after. Often referred to as an antique ladies’ desk, they’re recognisable by their smaller size. Unlike the hefty antique desks of the time, these were more like side tables - rectangular in shape with single frieze drawers. An antique ladies’ desk from the 18th century can go for up to £10,000 at auction. You can tell which are English examples primarily by the mahogany-lined drawers (the French tend to use oak).

Where to find antique desks for sale

When perusing antique desks, it’s always sensible to actually sit at one. Many knee holes on antique desks are too low or narrow to sit comfortably at. It’s also crucial to check the quality of the piece up-close and check for any signs of restoration. Browsing our antique desks for sale at Hemswell is a genuine delight: from antique oak desks to 17th-century bureaus, our four centres are a haven for furniture enthusiasts. Spend a full day wandering our fascinating floors then take a well-earned pit stop at one of our Coffee Shops. Perfect for tea and homemade cake as well as hot meals if you don’t fancy cooking later after a long day treasure hunting at Hemswell Antique Centres.

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