Portable Writing Desk by Thomas Handford, c.1820

Like many items of Georgian furniture, the portable writing slope (or lap desk) had its origins in the campaign equipment designed for use abroad by British officers or colonial officials.

Certain makers specialised in these artefacts and possibly the most celebrated of these was Thomas Handford, who traded from various London addresses between 1800-1840. I was delighted to stumble across a superb example of his work – in Penzance of all places – that had survived in virtually untouched condition and with three pictorial trade labels showing examples of his wares. These date the desk precisely to 1820.

The exterior is magnificently bound and inlaid with brass and the interior has two unique features, namely a lockable lift-out document box and a secret compartment (opened by pressing a dummy screwhead) that contains three turned ivory guinea cases resting in rattle-proof grooves.

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