I’ve probably written more letters sitting on my bed, in a chair watching TV, or even in the sway of a train than I ever have at a desk. But I like to imagine that if I had a luxurious, purpose-made space set aside for pen and paper alone, I’d sit down and write letters for the sheer joy of using it.
On a recent trip to the Getty Museum, I found a treasure trove of desks, the ultimate 18th and 19th century bling for dedicated correspondents (or for wealthy men and women who enjoyed looking like they were dedicated correspondents).
This massive desk would have not only accommodated the spread of my papers and books across its top, but also the spread of my wide satin skirts beneath in an earlier century. However, I suspect it was designed for the man of the family.
Maximilian II Emanuel, the exiled Elector of Bavaria, commissioned a Parisian craftsman to make this ornate inlaid desk and the matching footed organizer that sits on top. Separated long ago, the two pieces found each other again at the Getty when the museum acquired the organizer and returned it to its proper place on the desk already in their collection.
This little beauty, while elaborate in its own right, seems modest by comparison to the other two. It’s an 18th century lady’s desk, and I have to wonder if the wired hooped skirts that came into fashion 100 years later knocked it over once or twice. The hinged compartment for storing ink, pens, and stationery reminds me of the lidded desks we had in elementary school. Do they even have desks like that in school anymore or is my Dick and Jane childhood almost as old-fashioned as sealing wax? As charming as this desk is, it would never hold all the stuff I pile up in any work space.
I took a photo of my own computer desk a couple of years ago. At the time, I was writing an article about mudlarking on the River Thames so it was strewn with bits of old tile and porcelain found along the river, as well as a journal, photos, etc. But I can’t blame the mess on that project. Objects may rotate over time, but it always looks this way. Maybe I need to invest in smaller notecards to fit the space available.