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Sunday, June 6, 2010

The desk that sailed twice to Australia...

About four years ago, we inherited this desk from DMJ's uncle.  Uncle Len's still alive but wanted to pass on some valuable items before he re-married at the age of 88!

It has quite a history.  It came from the family of Len's first wife, Beryl, whose family lived in Kent, England.  In the mid 19th century it sailed with a family member all the way to Australia.  I don't know the full circumstances but it returned to England later that century.

DMJ's Grandparents sailed to Australia in the 1940s and, once settled, sent for and paid the passage of all nine children and their spouses to join them in this 'promised land'.  The desk sailed again, along with some other treasured pieces.

It still has all the original knobs but some of the little bone knobs on the drawers were missing.  We had a friend who had worked on the restoration of some old ships in England and could make wonderful things out of wood. When he saw the desk, he said that he could make replicas of the bone knobs and so we went looking in opp-shops for bone-handled knives (I wasn't going to use my Mother's set!).  Well, Peter set to and turned four perfect little knobs which only need to age a little!

Legend in the family has it that there is a secret compartment somewhere containing a ruby/diamond necklace.  Well, the family has been all over it and that compartment has not yet been found!  Two months ago, Michele at mynottinghill wrote about her craigslist bargain; a similar desk at USD350.00!!  A steal, considering that another desk I found on the Antiques Roadshow site would realise $25,000 to $35,000 at auction and, with contents, $100,000!!!!  Michele's desk is a little more elaborate than ours and she said that she actually found the secret compartment; hidden behind the middle door is a false floor, under which is a tiny drawer!  The floor behind our door is firmly attached.


I did some research and found that this 
particular desk would date to about 1760.  

"The many and various words that describe the glamorous members of the desk family are an obvious clue to their origins.  Escritoire, bureau, bureau plat, secretaire and bonheur du hour ... yes, the first furniture to be purpose-made for writing derived mainly from 16th century French styles. The Italians also had some influence and, indeed, the word 'desk' probably comes from desco or table.

There are subtle differences between the terms used to describe writing furniture.  'Escritoire' usually refers to a small, portable writing desk - a neat arrangement of drawers and pigeonholes, enclosed by a lid which folds down to double as a writing surface.  However, some early bureaux are also known as escritoires.

The bureau became popular during the 17th century and its basic design - a set of drawers with a desk area above - still gives us one of the most practical, space-saving work centres available.  A sloping hinged lid folds down to reveal the interior fitted with drawers and pigeonholes; sliding rails pull out to support the lid.  Bureaux were made in a huge variety of styles, from simple cottage pieces to those destined for sophisticated townhouses."



Excuse the mess of wires; 
I had to remove my computer for the pic!

When we brought it home, I reckon it was covered in nearly 250 years of grime!  Patina is the word!  Probably had never been polished, only dusted. 

I used a tepid water and methylated spirits mix and scrubbed with some old rags.  No sandpaper or steelwool touched it.  Then I gave it a couple of coats of Organoil, which has a strong, orange smell that disappears after about a week or two.

I love it, sit here every day and, yes, it is most practical for my needs; everything at my fingertips!

25 comments:

Betsy said...

Wow....this is really amazing! Can't believe it's sailed the seas back and forth! I love the cubbie holes and the thought of the hidden compartment. It's a lovely piece!

alaine@éclectique said...

Betsy, I thought the same thing; it's been bumped around in a hold for about four months in one of those old clippers! It could have ended up on the sea floor!

maggie's garden said...

Like what you've done with it. I suppose those compartments will come in handy. Beautiful piece of furniture...I bet it weighs a ton. Can only imagine how difficult it must have been to transport it. This piece must have really meant something special to your family. How nice to still have it around.
Hope you are enjoying your weekend.

Teri said...

It's wonderful to have something from your family that means so much. It has such a rich history. My husband inherited his grandfather's sea chest and we use it for a coffee table. We love it. All the hinges are hand-made and it even had some tools inside that he used for mended nets. You're lucky to have such a wonderful piece. I will imagine you now, sitting at your desk when you are typing away on your blog. Did you enjoy your time away?

alaine@éclectique said...

MG - Karen, it is very heavy but we both lifted it off the trailer. Hope you are enjoying your weekend too but we don't really have them any more, being retired every day drifts into another and sometimes we have to stop and wonder what day it is!! :)

alaine@éclectique said...

Teri, a sea chest, how wonderful; I'd use it as a coffee table too! I didn't go away, I just needed a break and hardly went in to my blog for nearly two weeks. I wanted to get my life back to some normalcy and now I'm making sure that the computer doesn't come first!

steven said...

wow alaine - the stories it could tell of all that it has seeen, the people who have sat it, or even walked by it. the conversations, the letters. steven

Sam Liu said...

What a beautiful item of furniture! And steeped in so much history, having sailed back and forth across oceans, you must be very happy to own such a fascinating antique, I know I would be. Good luck on finding that secret compartment too :D

alaine@éclectique said...

Steven, hi. I often sit and think of all that's gone on at the desk. I love the spilt ink stain; obviously an ink bottle has been knocked over and wasn't noticed for a while. Perhaps a cat jumped up and knocked it and i imagine the flurry, the back arching, the tail up, the claws, the squeal, the flying papers..... :)

alaine@éclectique said...

Sam, sadly, I don't think there is one; it's just a lowly desk built for a cottage! :)

Wanda said...

It may not have a mysterious secret compartment, but it is a beautiful piece. I love it's history.
...Wanda

Derrick said...

Hi Alaine,

Pity about the ruby/diamond necklace. Keep looking!! The decision whether to take one's possessions to the other side of the world or sell up is a fraught one.

FireLight said...

Elaine, this is a gorgeous piece!...And whatever it's monetery value it could not come close to the richness of its history and worldly glamor! Keep checking for all those extra tiny doors and false bottoms. Thank you for all the details!

alaine@éclectique said...

Wanda, the history always grabs me too.

alaine@éclectique said...

Derrick, I still haven't looked, hubby has and I'm thinking I'll pull all the drawers out and take a look up with a torch myself; probably do my back in the process!

alaine@éclectique said...

Firelight, I'll have a good search but I'm thinking that I can't make it happen!

Paul C said...

This desk carries so much charm and history. Beautiful post.

Susie Hemingway said...

Wonderful desk and a wonderful story of it's travels. It is also so nice to know the care you have lavish on this beautiful piece of much loved furniture, replacing the bone handles making it just as it was when new. I hope it serves you well for many many years so that you may pass it on to another who will love it also - sincere regards alaine.

alaine@éclectique said...

Paul C, thank you and thanks for dropping by.

alaine@éclectique said...

Susie, lovely to hear from you and yes, I do hope somebody in the family takes to it!

dancingbeastie said...

You know what: I think that the desk itself, with all its history, is the true treasure. I'd have been terrified of setting about it with meths, but you have brought up the patina of the wood beautifully: it is a lovely piece. I have a fairly similar one that was my father-in-law's, which I love; yours, though, is in better condition - and MUCH tidier!

Vagabonde said...

What a beautiful piece of furniture Alaine. I am sure it is very valuable, money wise, but knowing its history makes it even more so. I can understand that your cherish it, not for its money value but as an heirloom from your family.

alaine@éclectique said...

dancingbeastie, :), you haven't seen it when my computer is there, my notebooks, little bits of paper everywhere and dust! Country dirt roads are a nightmare for dust but I refuse to be constantly dusting!

The meths and water didn't do any harm, like raising the grain, as it was rubbed and dried pretty quickly.

alaine@éclectique said...

Vagabonde, an heirloom it is; wouldn't dream of selling it.

willow said...

A gorgeous piece with a fascinating history. Such a classy spot to do your blogging!