Technology has changed the furniture we live with. Tables and desks had to change to accommodate modern, large and often clumsy electronics.
At first a radio or radio-phonograph combination was kept in a cabinet that resembled a piece of early William and Mary furniture. It was a boxlike two-door cabinet with long legs. The radio and phonograph were hidden behind the doors.
Television sets required a rearrangement of chairs. The first sets were small and sat on a table. The screen was so tiny it required a magnifying-glass insert so more than one person could see the picture. When screens got larger, the TV set sat on the floor in a corner and chairs were arranged so the screen was easy for all to see. Soon, televisions were sold in attractive cabinets in reproduction furniture styles. Only the daring in the 1950s were buying modern furniture and leaving the television in plain view.Today’s television is thin and often hangs on a wall.
Through the years, desks have changed, too. Early desks had myriad drawers, shelves and doors so they could be used like a filing cabinet. The famous and very large Wooten desk was made with doors that could be locked. Computers made 18th and 19th century desks obsolete. Early personal computers had large boxlike monitors and separate keyboards that had to be at “writing” height. The “brains” (CPU) usually were kept on the floor nearby. Useful, but not attractive.
As computers grew smaller, screens grew flatter. Now a laptop or tablet can be kept on any shelf or table. Although prices for early desks have fallen, they still sell to those who like a period look. Exotic woods, marquetry, brass or gold trim, and carvings make an antique desk an attractive addition to a room, but not a great spot for a computer. Today average wooden desks from the past two centuries are a bargain, often selling for $300 to $1,000, much less than many new modern desks. And an antique desk is always in good taste.
Q: Back in the late 1980s, I bought an oak roll-top desk from someone who had owned it for years. On one side of the desk there’s a bronze plaque that reads “Oak Creek by Riverside.” Please tell me about the desk and if it has any value.
A: Riverside Furniture Corp., based in Fort Smith, Ark., was founded in 1946 and is still in business. So your desk, in Riverside’s Oak Creek line, is not an antique. But Oak Creek is not among the furniture lines the company still is manufacturing. Reproduction roll-top desks of solid oak, like yours, sell for $250 to $650.
Tip: The old cord on a vintage phone adds value. Green cords are best. Other old styles are twisted cords, brown cords, and patterned cords called rattlesnakes.