With its perfect proportions, untouched surface and exceptionally well-turned feet this child’s desk stands as a masterpiece of the form. Herbert F. Schiffer and Peter B. Schiffer explain in Miniature Antique Furniture, (Wynnewood, PA: Livingston Pub. Co., 1972) that children’s or miniature furniture were not made as “samples” but rather as luxury goods for either the children of wealthy colonists or for the wealthy adults themselves. The labor of making a diminutively sized piece was nearly as great as a full-size version and the additional hardware, locks, and hinges were the same cost as full-sized models. While many surviving children’s desks are made out of pine or maple, that this desk’s front was made of imported Virginia or Pennsylvania walnut is a testament to its cost at the time. Additionally, the desk’s meticulous joinery and quality turnings demonstrate that it was made in a highly skilled cabinetmaking shop.
Understanding the heavy use many underwent, very few William and Mary children’s desks survive today. A child’s desk that descended in the Jordan and Gay families of Biddeford, Maine with ball feet and three drawers is the closest equivalent to the currently offered lot. It, however, did not have valances placed above the pigeon holes and the interior drawers were replaced (see Samuel Pennington; Thomas M. Voss; Lita Solis-Cohen, Americana at Auction, (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979), no. 341 and Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, Fine American Furniture and Related Decorative Arts, May 1, 1981, sale 4590Y, lot 941 where it sold for $18,000). Another slightly later desk is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. no. 10.125.93)(see Morrison H. Heckscher, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985), p 264, no. 171). Other related New England ball foot children’s desks are illustrated in Schiffer, Miniature Antique Furniture, pp. 178-80, nos. 180, 181, 183.