Roll top desks are a source of fascination because of their reputation for guarding secrets. Their impressive appearance and grand structure suggest to the imagination they are meant to hold items of significant value. From successful entrepreneurs to Presidents, generations have trusted desks to hold secrets they would never entrust to another living soul. Consider several factors when purchasing or building a roll top desk to carry on this tradition.
The main distinct characteristic of the roll top desk is its tambour, the sliding cover that allows the entire desk surface to be concealed. The original tambour structure was made from wooden slats mounted on canvas and held together lightly with hide glue. Modern desks can have a tambour installed in less time than traditional methods by using a tambour door router bit set to create a tambour that interlocks with a ball and socket joint. This router set also provides an alternative replacement option for antique desks with deteriorated canvas or glue that hinder the raising and lowering of the desk.
Hutch and Drawer Secrets
The classic roll top desk hutch houses dozens of drawers and compartments. Traditionally, each leg contains four drawers, and a thin drawer is installed in the bridge. Raising the tambour reveals anywhere from 12 to 30 small compartments and drawers built into the top section. They were ideal for storing antique letterpress sets, quills, ink and blotters. Their large style is well-suited to the technology era and the drawers can now be used for pens, pencils, paper clips, CDs and flash drives.
Hidden Compartment Secrets
The tambour itself is historically the most utilized secret compartment. Important legal documents, ledgers, and letters of personal significance could quickly be hidden away when unannounced guests arrived. Some tambours even came equipped with a lock so valuable information could be stored securely when the owner was away from home. This was an especially important feature early in its existence when many homes did not have doors or windows that locked. In addition, the pen drawer across the bridge was sometimes removable and concealed a secret compartment underneath the writing surface for an extra measure of security.
Secrets for Buying an Antique Treasure
For those who love the beauty of the roll top desk but lack the woodworking experience to build their own, these treasured products of craftsmanship can still be purchased. While a contemporary model produced by modern technology is easier to find and less expensive, they often lack many of the classic roll top components. When searching for a genuine handcrafted antique, check to make sure it has a canvas-backed tambour and at least one secret compartment. It is also wise to compare prices because merchants sometimes try to pass off a product made of cheaper wood as antique.
Adelaide Tresor has been a technical writer and book editor since 2006. Her work has been published by Thomson Reuters and Greenhaven Press, including several "At Issue" titles. Tresor holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and is also a certified teacher with experience in English, mathematics, chemistry, and environmental science. She currently teaches AP Physics.