The Victorian mahogany partners desk has its origins with the imposing library desks of the 18th century, which are described by Thomas Chippendale in his 1762 book, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, as Library Tables.
It is often assumed that the Victorian mahogany partners desk, which has drawers and/or cupboards on both sides, was a Victorian invention developed from the concept of putting two conventional pedestal desks together, but this is not the case. Chippendale’s Library Tables are clearly partners desks in all but name, and were one of several desk designs developed in parallel. Later, a leather top was added and the style adopted for banking houses, and the term Partners’ Desk was coined.
Gillow’s of Lancaster probably has the longest association with Victorian mahogany partners desks . During the Georgian period Robert Gillow used Chippendale as inspiration for his own designs. 100 years later, Gillow’s were producing Chippendale Revival partners desks in the same manner. These are very similar to the Library Desks in Chippendale’s design book, and are valued at tens of thousands of pounds. Chippendale described his elaborately curved and embellished desks as “plain and intelligible,” which gives some idea of writing furniture styles of the time!
By the late Georgian period, desks were being built along neo-classical lines. The earliest Victorian mahogany partners desks followed Georgian tradition, often with drop ring handles, and pedestals supported on small cabriole feet, furnished with castors. At this time it was common to have a nine-drawer elevation to the front (three drawers on each pedestal, plus three drawers running the length of the top), and an elevation of two cupboards and three top drawers at the back. Later styles often had drawers and a cupboard on both sides. Some very early Victorian mahogany partners desks lacked the drawers along the top, though these were a staple by the mid-Victorian period.
The Victorian mahogany partners desk is a handsome, if imposing piece of furniture. However, it is easily transportable as it is designed to be broken down into three units.