Antique and vintage spinet desks
A spinet desk is a form of wooden desk.
Brief history and description
The desks are named thusly as when closed they resemble a musical instrument entitled the spinet, a member of the harpsichord family. From the exterior, the spinet desk has the appearance of a somewhat higher than usual writing table.
Spinet desks are fitted with a single drawer under their length. This drawer is however fake, and in actuality is a hinged panel intended to be folded inward whilst half the hinged surface is folded to cover the top of the other half, which in turn reveals an interior desktop of a normal height, complete with pigeonhole compartments and small drawers in the back.
Some models of spinet desk allow the inner desktop surface to extend by some inches, which adds working space. The desk’s capacity for hiding and revealing an interior working area has led many to consider it a compact cousin of the cylinder desk, or the rolltop desk. Similarly to them, it can be closed without causing disturbance to the various items left on the main desktop surface. It is unknown who made the first spinet desk, but many of the oldest are found in Europe, and they were being manufactured in England as early as 1684.
Guide for collectors
Spinet desks notably have spindly legs and a thick central frame. In attempting to trace the age and era of a spinet desk, collectors are advised to look at the type of legs, which can generally be regarded as indicative of the period.
The craftsmen of any given desk followed the prevailing fashions of his time; for example, the rounded, turn-vase shape leg of the 'Empire period' is found on some spinet desks until the 1830s. The desks experienced a resurgence in popularity during the early 20th century, with the peak of production occurring between 1918 and 1925, therefore rendering the vast majority of spinet desks as non-antique. Their main purpose was as a functional but delicate ’lady’s desk’. However, the design is considered too fussy for modern interiors and interest tends to be limited to those consciously recreating period interiors.
It is possible to restore a damaged desk, and this service is offered by several companies. A simply designed spinet desk was available in October 2011 at Nadeau’s Auction Gallery with a starting bid of $38. Online auctioneer Artfact.com similarly listed a Regency Style spinet desk with a starting bid of $35.
Notable auction sales
The more elaborate the design of any given spinet desk, and the better condition it is in, the higher a price it is likely to fetch at auction. Prices can vary wildly, sometimes reaching into the thousands.
They are not particularly rare, with models, many made during the first half of the 20th century being quite widely available and with price adjustments to suit their condition. For example, a mint condition spinet desk from the 1920s was available in 2011 at online auction on Ebay.com, with a starting bid of $1,500, whilst another, also from the 1920s but of inferior condition, was sold for $325.
Given the number of spinet desks available, value depends more upon materials used and rarity - the older and more ornate the higher the perceived value, although starting bids for these rarely exceed £250. As a general rule, the insurance replacement value of a spinet desk is between £250 and £350.