The Victorian mahogany pedestal desk has its origins in the 18th century, when Thomas Chippendale adapted the grand library desks used by the landed gentry for more practical use. Early pedestal desks had many influences, from Chippendale’s bold French Rococo designs to the simpler, classical lines of Sheraton, Hepplewhite and Gillow. These early designs would later be recreated as Victorian mahogany pedestal desks in the Revival tradition.
The earliest Victorian mahogany pedestal desks still bore the hallmarks of late Georgian neoclassicism, with the pedestals often supported on small cabriole legs, bracket plinths or reeded, tapering feet. As time progressed it became the norm for pedestals to stand on enclosed plinths, often hiding brass castors. Although some desks were still being produced in walnut, this was becoming rare and the majority of desks were in mahogany. Later, oak became fashionable, but the Victorian mahogany pedestal desk remained popular right up to the Edwardian period.
Victorian mahogany pedestal desks vary greatly in size, but all are made to the same basic design: two pedestals stacked with drawers (or drawers and a cabinet), with a removable top. Later Victorian mahogany pedestal desks were usually inlaid with a dyed leather writing surface, generally green or burgundy. Another introduction was the modesty panel, to hide the user’s legs from view when the desk was not placed against a wall.
During the 19th century, Victorian mahogany pedestal desks were widely produced by elite cabinetmaking firms such as Gillow’s of Lancaster, Lamb & Co and James Shoolbred. Heals, Maples and Liberty also sold fine quality pedestal desks, often produced in their own workshops. Designed for the wealthy middle-classes, they were of the highest quality, with flame veneers, brass locks and fittings, and gilt inlays. A Victorian mahogany pedestal desk stamped with one of these names, especially with the original brass fittings and leather top, would be highly valuable at auction.