Pre-Computer Laptop: Antique Lap Desk

A handy accessory for the Literate Elite

Thank you for sending me an image of your writing box, also known as a lap desk. Lap desks pre-date the laptop computer by hundreds of years and were most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.

These boxes were coveted objects created for the literate elite of the period for tourism and military purposes. They were used to draw

sketches and write poetry, novels and letters to loved ones from afar. As these writing boxes gained popularity, they were developed and

compartmentalized to open and house a sloped writing surface, faced with baize cloth or leather. The writing surface was typically hinged to reveal a space beneath to store letters and papers. Another section housed an inkwell, pen tray, stamp box or other practical feature.

The most basic of boxes were fashioned in oak with little embellishment. Boxes for military and campaign use had brass armor-like fittings around the edges and corners of the box to protect it on its rugged journey. Boxes for the elite tourists on a "Grand Tour" of Europe were often complex and intricate, made from exotic woods and inlaid with fanciful patterns. Some of these lap desks were even fitted with secret compartments.

I have always enjoyed dealing in writing boxes. Ten years ago I was on a buying trip with my father in England. At a shop on Portobello Road in London we stumbled upon an antique dealer that had over 500 lap desks for sale. They were stacked from the floor to the ceiling. Each one was impeccably restored, varying in price from $400 to more than $10,000. It was remarkable to see so many in one place.

Your writing box is English and dates to around 1840. It is in need of restoration, but nonetheless has integrity.

I would estimate your lap desk at $200.

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