The mechanics of the rolltop desk would indicate that it was a piece of fairly modern manufacture. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Early examples were being hand made in France during the reign of Louis XV (1723-1774).
Jean François Oeben, with his pupil J H Riesner, made the original rolltop desk for the French king, which prompted its popularity. There are some particularly fine mid 18th century Rococo designs by Roentgen that were much admired by both Hepplewhite and Sheraton. Hepplewhite particularly saw the antique desk as a very convenient piece of furniture. A popular design by Sheraton had the appearance of a barrel placed on its side, which was advertised in his Cabinet Dictionary in 1803. Victorian innovation brought in S shaped tops. However, the rolltop generally is prone to damage and deterioration due to the nature of its construction, where slats were glued to fabric to give it its flexibility.
The rolltop desk remained popular throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Some of these later desks are faithful copies from the earlier styles of Hepplewhite and Sheraton. However, there were also some very fine French designed pieces by Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann made of macassar ebony for the 1925 Paris Exhibition, and utilitarian versions made in light oak during the interwar period.
If you would like to buy a rolltop antique desk, Lancashire dealers will be able to advise you on whether a piece is still in its original condition, if the tambour or top is still working correctly, and the style and design that the desk was based on.
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