Friday Find – 7/16/10 Who is Davenport ?
Today’s find is a Davenport desk. Sometimes people refer to these as Captain’s desk, but this small desk with a stack of drawers on one the side is more correctly known as a Davenport desk. Why? Who is Davenport?
Wikipedia sheds some light on this: A Davenport desk is a small desk with an inclined lifting desktop attached with hinges to the back of the body. Lifting the desktop gives access to a large compartment giving ample storage space for paper and other writing implements, and smaller spaces in the forms of small drawers and pigeonholes. In addition, the Davenport has drawers on one of its sides, which are sometimes concealed by a panel. This stack of side drawers holds up the back of the desk and most of its weight. The front of the desk stands on thick legs or pillars which are often highly carved, somewhat exaggerated, thick cabriole legs, but these are not essential. 19th century Davenport desks had a variety of different leg designs.
The shape is very distinctive if not strange. The top part is much like an antique school desk while the bottom is like one half of the supports of a pedestal desk turned sideways. The addition of the two legs in front complete the odd effect.
This desk owes its name to a Captain Davenport who was the first to commission this particular design, from Gillows of Lancaster, near the end of the 18th century. In a sense then it could also be considered a Campaign desk though there are no records indicating if the captain was in the British Army or the Royal Navy.
This desk form was very popular during the 19th century. There have been numerous reproductions during the 20th century, and amateur cabinet makers sometimes consider a Davenport to be an interesting project.
So it is easy to see where the confusion comes in. Another resource states that Davenport was a captain around 1790s who commissioned this small form and the form is also known as a ship captains desk. About.com states in addition to the original use on the sea that it also became very popular in the 19th century on land in Victorian homes in both England and the US. As time went on this simple form became more ornate, which is typical Victorian behavior – take something neat and simple and make it more ornate and complex, with cabriole legs, carvings, and extra flourishes. The Victorians complicated designs and there are many movements or styles within the 100 year Victorian period. Thus, we can further identify a Davenport for example as a Rocco Revival Davenport or an East Lake style Davenport.
The one I encountered was a not extremely ornate. Stylistic elements are along the lines of the cottage style or early Eastlake style which would date it to ca. 1870. Later Eastlake, has few elements of Gothic or Cottage, and tends to become simple with incised lines and painted ornamentation. The example I saw this week, pictured below, has nice burl woods with a bird’s eye maple interior. The auction value range for this Davenport is $800-$1000.

To ensure smooth sailing with your collection, consider having it appraised to make sure you are adequately insured in the event your ship runs aground or consult with an expert when considering a “large” purchase. Contact us for a phone consultation regarding your collection concerns.

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