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image Image 1 for XF77
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Writing box or portable desk, XF77, English, unknown maker, early nineteenth century, mahogany, ebony, brass and baize with brass bound edges, shown partly open, ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photograph: Hugh Kelly
  • image Image 1 for XF77
  • image Image 2 for XF77

Writing box or portable desk, English, unknown maker, early nineteenth century, mahogany, ebony, brass and baize with brass bound edges

Height: 18cm
Width: 55.5cm
Depth: 28cm

Museum number: XF77

Curatorial note

Opens to form a writing slope (with modern dark blue baize), the lower half of which can be lifted to reveal a well (on the underside is a lattice of green ribbons fixed by gilt pins, into which correspondence could be slotted); the upper half has a lock with diamond-shaped brass keyhole escutcheon and also opens to reveal a well in which papers could be stored; above the slope is a pen tray which, when depressed at one end, lifts to reveal a well and a removable nest of three compartments presumably for ink bottles (the central compartment is smaller than the others and not so ink- stained; could this have been for sand?) which lifts out of reveal a shallow well. At the bottom of the desk is a rectangular void with swivelling panel at one end with two inlaid ebony ovals; at the other end is a matching fixed panel. On one side of the frame is a hinged brass strut which, when raised, engages with slots in the underside of the lower part; this allows the top of the desk to serve as a sloping lecture if a ledge (now missing) with brass pins is inserted into two brass-lined holes. Front of desk has oval brass keyhole escutcheon and original lock; the bottom of the box is lined with baize.

This box is described in the Furniture and Fittings inventory as ‘a small mahogany portable writing desk with brass mountings, the top covered with cloth’. It is shown in a section through the Dome Area and Breakfast Room by Francis Copland of 1818 on the Walpole desk in the window of the Breakfast Room in 1817 and was on the built-in desk (X356) at the time of Soane’s death.1

1 In the Furniture and Fittings inventory it follows the description of the built-in desk in the window, coming before the four loose drawers and it from this it seems that it originally stood on the desk.


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk