The Victorian oak partners desk was developed from the large pedestal desk designs first produced in the 18th century by designers such as Chippendale and Gillow. These in turn were developed from the massive library table designs commissioned by country estate owners.
Many Victorian oak partners desks are, in fact, simply large pedestal desks, as a true partners desk should have drawers and/or cupboards on both sides. Whereas a pedestal desk (of whatever size) was designed to be used by one person, a partners’ desk – as the name implies – was designed to be used by two people sharing the same work area, but needing their own document storage facilities. These desks were invariably large and imposing in design, as they were created for banking officials to use. Later, they became widespread in offices.
Traditionally, pedestal desks were built of mahogany. However, during the mid to late Victorian period, a need for lighter woods emerged, and most Victorian oak partners desks date from this time. Many were made in the Arts & Crafts style, using a high degree of craftsmanship.
The Victorian oak partners desk is a massive piece of furniture, up to 72” wide and 48” deep. However, it was designed in three sections for ease of transport, with two pedestals which could be removed from a top section. The top was normally inlaid in leather and often gilt embossed; look for fading and wear-and-tear on Victorian oak partners desks purporting to be in original condition.
The pedestals are made in one piece, either with drawers on both sides or drawers on one side and a cabinet on the other. The drawers are lockable (look for original brass fittings) and include extra drawers above the kneehole, generally three on one or both sides. As an example, an 18-drawer elevation would have twin plinths supporting three drawers on each side, with three further drawers below the top on each side. In some Victorian oak partners desk variants, dummy drawers are included – but check this isn’t a modern modification.