Dear Helaine and Joe:
I live in Staten Island, New York, and I recently purchased this slant desk from an upstate New York antiques dealer and would like to know more about my purchase. Is it a Chippendale desk? How old do you estimate it to be? Can you tell me a brief history of this type of desk?
There is a lot of ground to be covered here, and we are going to start with the last of the three questions asked.
This type of desk is known by a variety of names, but often it is called a slant-top desk. Among several other things (such as a fall front desk), it is also called a Governor Winthrop desk, but this is completely inappropriate.
John Winthrop was the 17th-century governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and died in 1647, which is more than a century earlier than this type of desk came into common usage. The nomenclature “Governor Winthrop desk” originated in 1924, when the Winthrop Furniture Company of Boston produced slant-top desks and gave them the Governor Winthrop name.
In a nutshell, Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) was born in Otley, Yorkshire, England. His father, John Chippendale, was a joiner (or cabinet maker), and Thomas followed in his footsteps. But Thomas Chippendale became something of a fashionable furniture designer as well as a craftsman. In 1754, he published the extremely influential book “The Gentlemen’s and Cabinet Maker’s Directory.”
Chippendale’s published designs echo to this day and furniture more or less in his style is still widely made around the world. In short, this desk is generally called a Chippendale-style slant-top desk, but in reality it is too plain and too chunky to have come from either Chippendale’s mind or hand.