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What is a Writing Desk?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Writing desks are desks that are constructed to make the process of writing a letter or other type of document by hand simpler. Desks of this type are of a certain height that makes it possible to sit comfortably in front of the flat surface and position pen and paper to the liking of the writer. A writing desk usually includes drawers or desktop cubbyholes where writing supplies are stored when not in use.

There is some disagreement on when the writing desk actually came into existence. There are those that contend that this type of furniture was first designed in ancient times. Others trace the origins to the latter part of the 17th century when paper began to become more common and affordable. Still others believe that a desk created for the specific purpose of writing letters is of more recent vintage, such as the early 19th century.

In any case, the home writing desk was a fixture in many homes by the end of the 19th century. Housewives would often make use of the desk to prepare social correspondence, such as issuing invitations or accepting invitations extended by others. Husbands made use of the desks to prepare letters and to write checks that were submitted by post to different vendors. In some households, children would complete their homework while seated at the family writing desk rather than studying at the kitchen table or elsewhere in the home.

A basic writing desk features of a flat surface that is conducive to writing. A drawer underneath the surface provides space for paper and other writing utensils such as pens, envelopes, and stamps. Some designs included a writing surface mounted on hinges. This made it possible to raise the lid and access a storage area underneath that served the same purpose as the drawer. The tabletop and drawer are generally supported by four legs that allow the writing surface to be at a proper height for writing letters while the writer sits in a straight chair that is usually referred to as a desk chair.

Desks of this type can also be ornate and multifunctional in nature. An antique writing desk may include a middle drawer as well as drawers on the left or right of that middle drawer. These larger drawers were ideal for organizing files and various types of documents. The surface of the desk was sometimes designed with a specific spot for an inkwell, an essential in the days before the invention of ballpoint pens.

As technology brought about new ways to create letters and various documents, the need for a traditional writing desk declined. Today, homes are more likely to make use of desks designed to allow for the easy use of computer equipment to create letters, manuscripts, and other paper documents. However, it is not unusual for some homes to make use of a good quality cherry writing desk as an accessory in a hallway or to add visual interest to a corner of the room.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including HomeQuestionsAnswered, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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