Antique school desks are found in personal collections and in museums. A school desk signifies the institution of learning and a time in youth when children learned the basics of reading, writing and math. An antique school desk that is 100 or older is considered an antique. School desks from more than a century ago were generally made of solid wood, and some were elaborately designed by makers such as Anna Breadin.
Anna Breadin was the first designer to patent a school desk on April 2, 1889. She was one of the first women designers, and she is considered a mother of invention for her innovative brand of desk. She designed it to have one free-flowing metal leg, with additional sections created out of wrought iron and wood. Her style introduced a new concept in school desk design, and it made her pieces collectible and valuable. A single desk of hers is worth in the thousands.
The more elaborate the design work, the more valuable an antique desk is. On antique wooden desks with metal legs from the 19th century, wrought iron was used. Some were made from all wood, such as redwood, pine and oak. Antique wooden desks will sometimes have a slanted table and an attached seat. The two piece desk and chair was introduced later in the 20th century.
Antique school desks made by Anna Breadin where elaborately designed. She made a desk functional by providing storage space underneath the desk top and making the desk top flat, so children could write with greater ease. Her desks were different from Mission Oak types and other all wood attached chairs and desks, which had a storage drawer underneath the seat of the chair. The children would have to bend down and open a big drawer. With Breadin's design, a child could easily reach into the open storage space under the desk top for his lesson book.
Where to Look
Country estate sales, antique shops, within an old school itself--if allowed--auction houses, all are places to find antique school desks. Online auctions tend to have a variety of affordable types of antique school desks starting around $50. Some of the best places to find antique school desks are at live antique and collectible auctions. Check out auctionzip.com to find an auction in your area.
The value of antique desks is $75-plus. Some desks are more valuable due to their condition (the wood is not scratched, pitted or warped) and workmanship (the attention to detail and intricacy of design and manufacturer). On the highly collectible Old Mission oak pieces, which are thick, dark wood, single desks are worth more than $1,000. This is due to the quality of the wood and the fact that Old Mission oak period furniture is popular among collectors.