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Writing Desks in Mexico and New York
Desks are specialized pieces of furniture used to hold pens, ink and paper, and store important documents. In Spain and Mexico, during 16th and 17th centuries, writing desks were portable, as was much of the furniture. Larger desks became common in the 18th-century through Europe and the American colonies.

Writing Desk Franz Mayer Collection  17th - 18th Century Mexican
Desk Bayou Bend Collection 1700 - 1730 New York
Writing Desk
Franz Mayer Collection
Bayou Bend Collection

17th - 18th

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New York

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Portable writing desks or cases were popular forms of furniture in Spain and Spanish colonies in the Americas. This writing desk is unique in New Spain because it has a folding top and drawers at the front.


The slant-form writing desk was a new kind of piece of furniture in the 18th century. Slant top folds down to provide a writing surface. Behind the desk front are places for storing documents.


The artist used inlaid, contrasting tones of wood to make the complex decoration on the front and sides of the desk. The eight-pointed stars inscribed within circles and other geometric motifs are of Moorish influence.

Inside, the lid of the desk and the back have brilliant lacquer decoration in imitation of Chinese art. The lacquer designs include a lion, a leopard, and flowers.


Like most expensive furniture of the period, this desk has a veneer surface of elaborately burled woods. Pine, a less expensive wood, was used for the areas underneath the veneer.

The complex veneers on the front of the desk, using darker strips to separate areas of patterned wood, indicates that this desk was probably made in New York.


In the 16th- and early 17th-centuries, Spain had no central administrative capital. Because the Spanish court was constantly on the move, portable furniture was very important. Portable furniture in Mexico was prevalent until well into the 18th century.

In New Spain, desks, writing cases, and wastepaper baskets were very fashionable, whether or not people knew how to write. Objects associated with writing were status symbols and are listed in many inventories of private property in the colonial period.

This desk functioned as an office for a wealthy person. At a time when most people worked at home, a desk like this provided a place to store important papers, maintain correspondence and records, The locks on the drawers and the lid indicate the importance of papers stored inside. The elaborate veneer surface attests to the wealth and status of the desk's owner.


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