Mrs. Smith’s Writing Box

This week’s Object Of The Week is a portable desk from the late 19th century. It was donated by Mrs. Arden D. Smith. The desk is made of wood, velvet, and mother of pearl. It is square shaped with a slated piece of wood that is hinged and when folded down, reveals a velvet covered surface for writing. At the top, when opened, there are multiple compartments as well as an ink well. The velvet writing surface opens, showing a storage compartment. The outside of the portable desk is black lacquer with gold paint for decoration with a mother of pearl inlay. There is a lock in the back of the portable desk.

portable desk 1

portable desk 3

portable desk 2

Portable desks have been around way before the 18th century but the portable desk that influenced this one has a place in our nation’s history. Thomas Jefferson used a device that he invented and called a “writing box” to draft the Declaration of Independence on. He designed the desk at a delegate in 1776 to the Continental Congress. From that point, the desk took off in popularity and eventually there were many different designs of this writing box. As time went on, and people were using the desk more and more, this writing box soon became known as a lap desk. Towards the end of the 19th century, the use of lap desks diminished as technology advanced.  Today, the box that Jefferson used for over 50 years is currently on display at the Smithsonian in the Presidency exhibition. This portable desk is currently on display in the Deyo House.

Antique Writing Boxes and Lap Desks Notes for an Interview with Nick Girdler.” Antique Writing Boxes and Lap Desks Notes for an Interview with Nick Girdler. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Lap Desk.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Small, Lawrence M. “Mr. Jefferson’s Writing Box.” Smithsonian. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

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