Picture This LXVI

Since Picture This LXV was so well received, here’s another item of early English furniture for the sleuths to elucidate.

oak_desk_01aFig. 1. Oak desk on cabriole legs. (Bonham’s)

It’s no good saying “… it’s George IV”; I want hard dates and I need to know all the hows, whats, whens and why-fors (there is plenty of relevant information in earlier posts on this blog alone).

The readers who are in the antiques trade will decipher this one instantly, so their replies – should they join in – won’t be posted until others have had a stab at it.

Over to you.

Update, November 14th.

The seventeenth-century table-top desk is intrinsically correct, albeit with a few modifications to the locking mechanism over the years. The desk would have originally had a hasp (attached to the underside of the slope with nails) whose staple would have engaged the slot in the lock plate and been retained by the lock’s bolt (figs. 2 & 3).

oak_table_desk_c1709_01a_BonhamsFig. 2. Oak table desk showing original hasp and attachment nails in slope, circa 1709. (Bonham’s)

mid-17C_oak_table_desk_01a_BonhamsFig. 3. Mid-seventeenth-century oak table desk, minus hasp, but showing lock bolt through staple slot in lock plate. (Bonham’s)

It was common practice to nail the lock plate directly over the carved decoration (fig. 4).

oak_table_desk_c1670_01a_BonhamsFig. 4. Oak table desk, circa 1670. (Bonham’s)

At some date a till lock was fitted to the interior of the desk front and the staple slot was filed to create a keyhole. Another lock appears to have been attached to the slope which presumably engages the front of the desk.

The cabriole legs are from a circa 1715-25 lowboy or dressing table. As has already been commented on, the legs are pre-mortise-and-tenon construction: The carcase would have been nailed/dovetailed together first, with the legs being subsequently nailed into the corners of the carcase.

The ribbed angle brackets – of a type still available today (fig. 5) – are attached with slotted screws (fig. 6), so I suppose the legs were attached to the desk either prior to the inception of Phillips screws in the 1920s, or later, by someone with a conscience of some degree.

steel_angle_bracket_01aFig. 5. Ribbed steel angle bracket.

oak_desk_01cFig. 6. Steel brackets and slotted screws used to attach cabriole legs to desk. Note nail holes in legs. (Bonham’s)

Jack Plane

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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24 Responses to Picture This LXVI

  1. Mike Higgins says:

    I didn’t know they used Phillips head screws in 1892 :)

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  2. Ken says:

    Looks like I’m going to be the first responder. I am new to this so forgive me if I make rookie mistakes….Only been doing this for a year or 2…

    The legs can’t possibly be original to the piece so they were added at a later date. The metal brackets suggest the were added sometime in the mid to late 19th century. The feet are chewed and/or water damaged at some point, maybe they were added to elevate the main piece for some reason.
    The hardware appears to be early 18th to late 17th century but I could really use a better close up. Hand carved oak suggests a William and Mary English slant front desk (?), but the top is hinged the wrong way for a slant top desk…. It’s more of a davenport…. Crap, I can’t even identify what it is….

    The legs bother me… It’s like they were taken from a broken Queen Ann chest. That’s all I have.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      “The metal brackets suggest the were added sometime in the mid to late 19th century.”
      What is your reasoning for the date?

      “The legs bother me… It’s like they were taken from a broken Queen Ann chest.”
      Queen Ann period, or North American Queen Ann? And what sort of chest?

      JP

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      • Ken says:

        Sorry for the delay, I usually respond from work and it’s been hectic…

        I thought I read somewhere that hardware like that wasn’t used until about 1830 that’s why I used the mid to late 1800’s time frame.

        Regarding Queen Ann, I was thinking North American Queen Ann, but I’m thinking more of a writing desk now rather than a chest. The Hepplewhite style ladies writing desk I have has a long extension off the leg similar to the one pictured.

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  3. hcockwill says:

    1660s bible box later mounted onto 1710 legs ?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      So close! It’s not a ‘bible box’, but the date is fairly accurate. What are the legs off and what makes you say 1710?

      I’m more concerned with the legs than what’s perched on top of them.

      JP

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  4. paul6000000 says:

    I’ll say it’s a genuine 1680s English Oak writing desk/box. Then, around 1970, a slightly rotten Queen Anne lowboy turned up in a shed. The shed also happened to contain eight old L-brackets and a half empty can of Tudor Brown wood stain. The creator sawed a few inches off the tops of the legs in order to perfect the proportions.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      I’m happy with “… 1680s English Oak writing desk…”, but why 1970 and again (since you’re from North America); Queen Ann, or North American Queen Ann?

      JP

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      • paul6000000 says:

        I photo caption says Bonhams’s, which is British, so I’m guessing none of the components are colonial. I imagine that not having claws or shells, it would be early- up to 1710. I say 1970s just because my dad had a pot of thick brown stain around that time and it matches the colour of those legs. Apart from the feet, they look too evenly coloured, not to be stained.

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        • Jack Plane says:

          You’re very close with your date, but I think more by accident.

          “I say 1970s just because my dad had a pot of thick brown stain around that time and it matches the colour of those legs.” That’s not the sort of scientific approach I was hoping for, but good for your dad anyway!

          JP

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  5. Joe M says:

    maybe a harder question would be what’s right…yes Philips screws in the bracket holding the rear legs and front lock.
    legs.. from a dressing table or bottom of a 2pc tall chest, damaged feet from being on dirt floor, mops etc. early-mid 1700’s no signs of mortices so the original carcass was set around the legs as shown by the flat ledge on top of the knees and the rough surface from being ripped apart on the square post.
    Multiple types of metal angle brackets attaching the legs to the “desk”.
    Front lock plate has two key holes attached with nails and what might be one of those 17th century philips screws.
    The slanted top shows signs of a few uses. probably a door from a cupboard, Has keyhole and shadow of a surface lock, three holes that could have been for a hasp, and there seems to be part of a latch poking out from under the edge just above the front lock plate. The edge treatment does not seem right.
    So…Without more photos……again to dig myself in another hole….1680-1720 box, horribly set onto legs from about 1760, early reused lock nailed/screwed onto front of case , covered with panel door probably from a cupboard or built in storage.
    Because of the “channeled “L” bracket on the rear leg, and the philip screws attaching it……all assembled in the 1950’s…..Wonder if this was listed as “parts” in Bonham’s catalogue?
    Well I gave it a shot………

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    • Jack Plane says:

      There are no Philips head screws as far as I can see.

      You’re spot-on with a dressing table/lowboy/chest stand being the donor of the legs. Again, you’re spot-on with the legs/carcase construction, but given this, your first dating is far too vague and the latter, way out. You should be able to nail the date of the legs down to one decade.

      The L-brackets appear to be all the same.

      The front lock plate is original and with its original nails.

      JP

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      • Joe M says:

        Facing the piece..the left rear leg, lower nail/screw looks to be a philips head screw.
        Front lock…upper right nail/screw looks to have a groove in it? Why two key holes? and why cover up so much of the front decoration/carving?….as far as dating the legs within 10 years….Me???,,,If I was that good I’d be wining the Lottery! but I’ll try and guess 1710-1720 because of the lack of “curve” to them and the original case construction. I think that’s end of W&M beginning of Queen anne I’ll have to get out some books! but first where’s my shovel..need to dig deeper..

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        • Jack Plane says:

          I enlarged the image and all the screws appear to be slotted which isn’t really relevant: I’ll concede the brackets and screws are most likely twentieth-century.

          One of the ‘keyholes’ wasn’t always a keyhole. The lock plate and hinged slope are both original, so come on, what’s going on there? I will tell you that the box’s security has seen at least three distinct phases.

          No date can be deduced by slightly more or less curvature of the legs; the clue is entirely in the absence of mortices in the upper legs.

          JP

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  6. Paul says:

    I’m thinking 1710-20 lowbow legs attached with forged iron brackets to the bottom of a 1680s oak writing desk sometime later in the 18th/ 19th c with slotted screws in order to improvise a make do desk…although my screen resolution isn’t good enough to be sure about the screws but, the Philips screw I can make out on the left rear leg looks like a possible bad repair.

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  7. smf says:

    As to the lock, I think the left hole would have been for the hasp (fitted to the inside of the lid – presumably the iron staining to the outside is from its nails?). The hasp likely broke and a new mechanism fitted, reusing the hasp hole (with some filing). Would the third stage then have been someone fitting yet a further mechanism back into the original space, as you can see the locating pin?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Full marks! The left hole in the lock plate is indeed the former slot for the original hasp’s staple. The iron staining/nail remnants on the lid (directly above the slot) is where the hasp would have been attached to the lid.

      JP

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      • Smf says:

        Thanks! On the basis of your lowboy blog entry from 2011, I’m guessing the legs are from c.1720 – the apron/sides on the original were joined with simple lap joints/nails, pointing to an early-ish date but not before cabriole legs were in vogue. Anywhere near?

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  8. smf says:

    Thanks! For the cabriole legs from a lowboy/dressing table, how would the apron/sides have been attached on the original piece – just a lapped joint or also nailed? Your lowboy blog entry from 2011 suggests that this would be c.1720-30, but I’m probably reading too much into it.

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  9. Alison Houston says:

    I can’t help wondering if one day we will come to admire these ingenious adaptations and changes of use. In Britain those who follow the ideas of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient a Buildings would not encourage an approach which sought to ‘restore’ a house to its earliest plan necessarily, and yet with a funny looking thing like this and other pieces of furniture we instinctively wish to remove the carbuncles and put it ‘right’, yet it tells a story of its own which once restored would be let to history.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      There is probably more altered furniture in existence than untouched stuff, but for the most part, it goes undetected (just browse the majority of auction catalogues and dealers’ sites) or its owners don’t object to the modifications.

      No one is suggesting that this unlikely amalgamation be dismantled to liberate the desk, but some times the alterations/modernisations are so appallingly executed that the only course is to restore the piece of furniture to its rightful configuration (think bracket feet on formerly bun-footed chests).

      If a white UPVC window were discovered in a Grade I listed English house, it would be whipped out pronto and a window of an earlier design from one period or another of the house’s evolvement would be put in its place.

      I/we are just investigating the story.

      JP

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  10. Jack Plane says:

    I have now updated the post above with the evidence as I see it.

    Thanks to all again for making this interesting and entertaining.

    JP

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