Antique Secretary Desk: Identification and Value Guide

Plethora of styles keeps contributing to the history of secretary for more than 300 years. It remains a hot choice for passionate collectors from all over the world.

However, finding an authentic piece seems somewhat difficult for beginners. That’s where you must stick with expert discussions on the antique secretary desk.

DeAgostiniGetty Images
DeAgostiniGetty Images

Moving History of Secretary Desks

Timeline of the secretary desks should seem interesting for certain enthusiasts. However, the writing desk refers to a secretaire in French to originate secretary desk. And it explicitly denoted a particular desk to feature more height than the width.

Jean-Francois Oeben is credited to craft the very first secretary desk in the 18th century. Not to mention, he was the royal cabinetmaker for Louis XV at the time. Oeben designed an exclusive fall-front or drop-leaf ‘secretaire a abattant’ desk.

drop-leaf ‘secretaire a abattant’ desk
A fall front desk.

And the adopted design continued to evolve since its entrance into the royalty. The most prominent inventive styles continued from the 18th century to the 19th century. Major sections integrated many elaborate carvings & marquetry with inlays.

Simpler designs started to check the reality with an encouraging number of middle-class families. In fact, writing letters to the near & dear ones required a secretary desk. Likewise, vintage desks held bizarre as well as beauty in the mid-20th century.

Antique Secretary Desk Styles

Tradition of desks is somewhat unusual to the public before universal education establishments. However, wealthy as well as powerful ones had to rely on desks. It’s where the evolution took place to cope with the demand. You better check the primary styles in terms of design.


Bureau Desk – The design features a good number of drawers on either side. Its chest-originated style first appeared in France. In fact, the storage facility counted impressive. Its front surface adorned different shapes – straight-front, S-curved serpentine, or bow-front.

Rare Figured Maple Desk on Frame, Rhode Island
Souce:  Rare Figured Maple Desk on Frame, Rhode Island

Desk-on-Frame – It also comes in the name of escritoires of French origin. And the design holds good similarity to bible boxes with additional decoration. Turned legs induce the standing with brass fitting. And the functional style holds carved skirts, a detachable top compartment & a slanted lid.

Laurel Crown Chippendale Drop-Front Secretary Desk
Souce: Laurel Crown Chippendale Drop-Front Secretary Desk

Drop-Front Desk – It’s more like a variation of escritoires, integrating hinged lids. Dropped open condition initiates a good sport for reading or writing. And the closed lids kept all the top-level compartments & drawers inside. Also, elaborate Chippendale style held carvings with ball-&-claw feet.

Antique French Satinwood Kneehole DeskVanity
Souce: Antique French Satinwood Kneehole DeskVanity

Kneehole Desk – The somewhat modern-day design is a modification of bureau desks. Its built-in kneehole or center-space allowed the user to sit close. The imposed details are explicitly helpful for female users. And the details included serpentine front, claw feet & brass-pulling drawer.

THOMASVILLE Queen Anne Cherry 6 Drawer Lady's Desk Secretary Writing Desk
Souce: THOMASVILLE Queen Anne Cherry 6 Drawer Lady’s Desk Secretary Writing Desk

Lady’s Desk – One of the very first secretary desks concern American Federal-style design. The 18th-century desk formal yet beautiful piece of furniture with open storage. It featured a glazed cabinet top with a flip forwarding surface. Meanwhile, two integrated pull-outs held the top writing surface.

George III Mahogany Cylinder Tambour Desk circa 1800
Souce: George III Mahogany Cylinder Tambour Desk circa 1800

Tambour Desk – It came into circulation in the 1890s to go by American Mahogany Tambour Secretary. The distinctive Federal-style desk featured tambour sliding shutters. And the mechanism hid the top level to have pigeonhole or drawer. Not to mention, a lot of variations kept changing the style.

High Secretary Desk vs Low Secretary Desk

High secretary desk is indeed a synonym of the previously mentioned Lady’s Desk. And the tambour desk holds a low secretary desk for a synonym. It’s important to identify the differences between the two styles for a better understanding.

High desks featured a storage attribute to allow open access for anyone. The slant-top comes with a lower desk to feature a writing space. In addition, there are 2 cabinet doors right above the drawers. It concealed the shelving for major designs. However, you can even find a combination of relevant slots or pigeonholes. And the design can hold a marriage of organization with architectural quality.

Tambour sliding shutters kept all the upper-level drawer or pigeonholes hidden. Thin wooden slats in a vertical position induced a delicate fabric. Its lower drawers adopted Federal-style commodes to enable multi-drawer functionality. Later versions integrated exclusive china cabinets right on top.

Secretary vs Escritoire – The Differences

Secretary, escritoire, bureau & secretaire – the terms are often used interchangeably. However, the secretary desk is more like the ultimate category. Not to mention, escritoire remains a direct synonym of secretary in grammar. And escritoire covers a reasonable portion in the defined class.

Escritoire is indeed a modified writing desk to feature a spacious, flat, accessible surface. It’s more like a writing table for the luxurious, wealthy & important persons. And the designs primarily hold a hinged middle section. It allowed the user to close the open surface when not in use.

Meanwhile, secretary desks may come with/without a definite writing surface. An extensive range of hidden as well as open storage adorned the appeal. Decorative designs should appear on the visible exterior with details. And you can easily manage many variations in different contexts.

Extremely Rare Secretary Styles

Apart from the mentioned styles, you can possibly check some extremely rare designs. The initial investment will cost you a significant fortune on authentic pieces. However, a minimal number of pieces are currently available for purchase.

  • Wooton Desk: It remains an exclusive stand-out style of rare luxury from the past. Wooton is an impressive writing desk to feature two well-defined sides. And the style becomes different from the classic upright-steamer trunk. The sides can easily swing out from the intended position using casters. And you get to access interior drawers as well as cubbies.
  • Chateau Anjou Demi Desk: It’s the 18th-century French antique to impose deliberate wood carving. You’ll get to use a built-in upright hunch with two shelved cabinets. Also, there comes a display shelf right in the center. Only three exterior drawers in a stressed design require minimal space. Again, a minimalistic top writing surface can push the charm.
  • Art Nouveau Desk: It’s a drop-front secretary with exclusive features. It intricates satinwood, mother of pearl & rosewood inlay for the surface. Feathered glass with a cabinet door combines superfine mahogany overlay. And bookcase carvings on its side introduce some feminine details. Not to mention, Victorian furniture often held the similarity.

Favorite Ways to Use Secretary Desk

How you want to utilize the antique furniture should occupy your on-demand purchase. In fact, there are different strategies to check secretary desks in the house.

Living Room – Combination of desk with cabinet sounds a delightful longshot. It’s better to skip secretary desks without the top cabinet portion. Instead, desks to feature an upper cabinet or hutch should meet the room specs. However, matching details can properly accommodate the furniture in the living room.

Dining Room – You can cast the desk in a completely new, challenging & effective role. But a dining room narrative particularly coincides with glass. Therefore, you should start looking for styles to feature a glass-door hutch. Also, it’s entirely possible to serve the meals right on the secretary desk on few members.

Bedroom – Set a bridge from the open gap between the dresser & desk inside the bedroom. In fact, almost any design can fit into modern-day bedrooms. Decoration details require absolute simplicity to induce reasonable space coverage. Additional headboards can complete the style without leaving any gap.

Entryway – Extensive storage options can deliberately beat consoles on the entryway. It can comfortably hide all life’s minimal necessity items from the picture. Perfectly matching appeal is important to make an immediate impression. Simply leave the drop-leaf desk unfolded in a drop zone should do the trick.

Kitchen – It’s not exactly the first place you can think of having secretary desks. But a tall antique desk with many pigeonholes should hold many smaller items. Consider the available space for kitchen application before making the use. You can even fill the flat top or hutch shelves with some cookbooks.

Corner Office – Currently trending ‘work from home’ can suffice the use in an empty space. It literally gives the escritoire designs a whole new meaning. Just place the desk for an everyday work session on demand. Tucking the desk almost anywhere in the house can introduce a quick transformation.

(Credit – Chairish)

Antique Secretary Desk Valuation

There’s nothing new to evaluate antique wooden furniture value. Checking the commercial setups to deal with antiques can provide great assistance. You’re to check garage sales, vintage shops & even flea markets to develop some idea.

Beware of the reproduction as well as a marriage furniture piece. Simply continue to hold the essential facts for close inspection. Right there, you should establish differences for the authentic ones.

Again, you’re free to consult or even appoint nearby/online appraisals. Don’t forget to establish communication with multiple experts from friends, relatives, or family. Everything remains standard with the intended market price.

Final Words

Identification has to follow its proper valuation on sell or purchase. And you can’t expect solid satisfaction without definite knowledge. Condition, provenance, appeal & market will decide the actual market tag. And the facts mentioned right above should enlighten your mind at once.

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