Long before computers became popular and facilitating them became the primary concern of desk hunters, the roll top desk was considered to be one of the classiest and most sought after desks on the market. Those who were true desk lovers wanted nothing less than an actual wooden roll top desk while roll top desks are still popular, they have become more of a decoration piece than a functional piece in peoples' homes. Here is a look at the history of the roll top desk and what makes it unique.
The roll top desk is actually a nineteenth century reworking of a previously popular type of desk called the pedestal desk The pedestal desk was a large, stand alone desk that was made up of a simple working surface (typically rectangular in shape) that sat upon either small, stacked drawer cabinets or on pedestals. This desk also had a large drawer that fit under the center of the work space that sat above the user's lap.
The inventor of the roll top desk took the design of the pedestal desk and went two steps further. While it had the simple and large workspace that sat upon two stacks of drawers, it also featured an additional piece. This piece was fixed to the top and back of the work surface and contained shelves, storage compartments, nooks and drawers – all for storage. Many likened this extra piece to the Carlton house desk or the Bureau a gradin. The piece de resistance of the roll top desk however, was the slatted wooden cover that rolled or slid down through slots that had been carved into the desk's raised sides.
The slatted rolling top led people to compare it to the cylinder desks that were popular in the eighteenth century, though it is actually related to the tambour desk – a desk that also featured a closure piece of wooden slats. The difference was that while the tambour desk featured slats that retracted to the sides of the desk the roll top desk's slats rolled up into the top of the desk itself.
The roll top desk quickly found popular because it was easy to produce. Its fast production was owed to the ease with which people could produce the wooden slats that rolled down over the top of the desk These slats were usually kept together by their mutual attachment to a leather or cloth foundation which kept the slats from getting caught or stuck when they were opened and closed.
Throughout the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the roll top desk was very popular. In the late twentieth century, however, steel desks became more popular and filing cabinets made the drawers of the roll top obsolete. People were corresponding more often and producing more paperwork, which quickly outgrew the smaller compartments of the previously popular desk
The good news is this: because it was mass produced in great quantities all over the country, it is still possible to find a real, original roll top desk in good condition. Antique hunters have had wonderful luck in finding these pieces to add dimension to their homes.