Monday, November 21, 2011

Bureaux, antique writing furniture

There are many different types of “writing furniture”, but perhaps the best known is the bureaux, basically a desk with a hinged flap that folds up when not in use.
Made in quantity from the 18th century, bureaux are generally oak, walnut, pine or mahogany, some lavishly decorated with lacquer or marquerty. They were often combined with bookcases and cabinets to become bureau bookcases or bureau cabinets.
Like ordinary cabinets, these were as much to display the wealth of their owner as for any practical purpose. Many have a strong architectural feel, designed to co-ordinate with the architecture of the rooms in which they stood.

As in most English furniture of the period, oak was the most commonly used wood but fashions began to change following the Restoration in 1660 when not only did walnut replace oak as the material of choice but writing furniture was now more usually fitted with bases. Slowly, the sloping box developed to have its own stand. This was first removable, where the cabinetmaker disguised the join, and later became fixed. This sloping box on stand is now commonly known as the 'Clerk's Desk' whilst a sloping desk with drawers below is now known as a 'Bureau'. At first the term bureaux described other types of furniture such as low chests of drawers and dressing tables but by 1700 the term was finally accepted as describing writing furniture.

From France in the late 17th Century came the 'Bureau-Cylinder' and 'Roll-Top Bureau' now more usually referred to as a 'Roll-Top' or 'Cylinder Desk'. The Cylinder Desk has a rounded lid which rotates into the desk whilst the 'Tambour' or 'Roll-Top' has its top enclosed by a sliding curved lid made from a number of wooden slats glued to a cloth base which allows it to roll down.

Chinese and Japanese lacquer became popular in the 17th century, and soon English cabinet makers began to produce their own “oriental” antique style lacquer called japanning. Black was the most common colour; red is much rarer.

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