A mystery desk

A mystery desk

I saw a desk very much like this one at Woodlawn, a plantation located adjacent to George Washington’s Mt. Vernon near Alexandria, VA. The land had been part of Mt. Vernon and was given to Martha Washington’s granddaughter and her husband to keep them close. Woodlawn is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Tours are given but pictures are not permitted.

Back to the desk. The desk at Woodlawn was more “Colonial” in appearance and wheeled. I had never seen anything like it until I saw this one in Las Vegas at an antiques mall. The one in Las Vegas looks much older in life than in the picture.

I saw a similar desk in another place that prohibited photography. It remained a mystery for years until I was looking through a recently acquired copy of Southern Antiques and Folk Art by Robert Morton. The caption of the photo on page 85 identifies it as a fire screen desk, called by others a fireplace screen desk or screen desk. The theory of the desk was that you could work in front of the fireplace and keep your feet warm while the desk blocks the direct heat from the fire on your face.

A little more looking about led me to Joel Moskowitz’s blog at Tools for Working Wood. See:

Joel’s Blog at Tools for Working Wood Too Many Projects!!

I ran across a smaller desk at a local antiques shop.

Secretaire en portefeuille

Secretaire en portefeuille

Secretaire en portefeuille open

Secretaire en portefeuille open

This form is called the “secretaire en portefeuille”. This translates as portfolio or wallet secretary. This one seems to be more of a lady’s desk.

I saw this last desk at a dealer in Lambertville, NJ. This form is less effective at blocking flames but keeps many of the characteristics of the others. I just want to know where to get the hardware.

Wall desk

Wall desk

Wall desk open

Wall desk open

Wall desk more open

Wall desk more open

Located with the Woodlawn plantation house is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House. Build in 1940, this is one of the more modest Usonia houses, built for the masses. A different experience but just as interesting.