logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

The portable writing desk:
common before the mid-20th century

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Edwardian writing desk, closed: a polished box of dark wood

The portable desk, closed - a polished box of dark wood which locks with a key.

While I was growing up in 1940s and 1950s Britain, most communication was by post - snail mail as it came to be called decades later. People (mostly men, who were at the time considered more suited to tackling business and financial matters) had a 'desk' in which they stored their writing materials and which provided a surface for writing.

While I was growing up, new desks were of the bureau type, but older men still used either special custom-made portable boxes or - if they had the space - office style desks.

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Appearance of a Victorian/Edwardian portable writing desk

Edwardian writing desk, open, revealing a sloping writing surface and compartments for pens, ink, etc

The portable desk, open, showing a sloping writing surface and various compartments

My grandfather's portable desk was probably new in Victorian or Edwardian times, and I am fortunate to have it in my possession.

The desk can serve as a model for other such desks in ordinary working class households, although more expensive desks would have had more compartments and been more decorative.

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Writing surface of a Victorian/Edwardian portable writing desk

When opened, the lid of the desk forms a smooth and slightly tilted writing surface with the part of the lower half of the desk. Although this is difficult to explain in words, it is clear from the photo.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer
webmaster

Both parts of the writing surface lift off to give storage spaces underneath.

The surfaces are covered in a coloured fabric, sadly now badly faded.

At the back of the desk, (as seen by the user), are holders for pens, ink and small items of stationery.

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The compartments of the desk

Pen compartment of a Victorian/Edwardian writing desk, showing its curved profile for easy handling of pens

The pen compartment which has a curved bottom surface so that the pens can be removed and replaced more easily.

Note the ink stains from constant use.

The photo shows the pen compartment and two other compartments for odds and ends. The pen compartment has a curved lower surface so that the pens can be removed and replaced more easily.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.