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502

Charles Rohlfs

Revolving Desk

Charles Rohlfs

Charles Rohlfs

Revolving Desk

Revolving Desk

Authenticity guarantee

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Charles Rohlfs

Revolving Desk


circa 1898

model no. 500

stained oak, wrought-iron, original burlap lining

56 x 25½ x 24 in. (142.2 x 64.8 x 61 cm)

Overall in very good condition. This inventive desk by Charles Rohlfs is rotable and retains full functionality of movement. The desk appears to retain its original dark finish, which is beautifully preserved and presents with age-appropriate wear throughout. The desk presents with occasional areas of fading and discoloration to the finish revealing a warmer tawny brown undersurface, concentrated to the edges and not visually distracting. The oak surfaces throughout present with minor surface scratches, abrasions and small indentations consistent with age and gentle use. The edges and feet present with slightly more concentrated wear and very small chips to the wood, consistent with age and not visually distracting. One flame finial presents with a very fine hairline crack to the wood measuring approximately ¾ inch, which displays slight movement but remains stable overall. The wrought iron hardware presents with oxidation and tarnish throughout consistent with age and not visually distracting. The interior of the drop-front compartment is fitted with two drawers. One side of the desk is fitted with four drawers and the other side is fitted with three removable shelves. The piece retains its original burlap lining which presents with scattered small tears and losses, consistent with age and not visually distracting. An exceptional and elaborate form by Rohlfs featuring a particularly satisfying dark finish.  


In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby’s is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

Rago Auctions, Lambertville, New Jersey, October 18, 2014, lot 77
Acquired from the above by the present owner
John S. Bowman, American Furniture, New York, 1985, p. 157
Tod M. Volpe and Beth Cathers, Treasures of the American Arts and Crafts Movement: 1890-1920, New York, 1988, p. 41
Leslie Greene Bowman, American Arts & Crafts: Virtue in Design, Los Angeles and Boston, 1990, p. 59
Michael L. James, Drama in Design: The Life and Craft of Charles Rohlfs, exh. cat., Burchfield Art Center, Buffalo, NY, 1994, p. 38 (for the model in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts)
James C. Massey and Shirley Maxwell, Arts & Crafts Design in America: A State by State Guide, San Francisco, 1998, p. 247 (for the model in the collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond)
Joseph Cunningham, The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs, New Haven, CT, 2008, pp. 78-79 (for the model in the collections of the Dallas Museum of Art)
David Cathers and Susan J. Montgomery, Arts and Crafts Furniture from the Collection of the Two Red Roses Foundation, Palm Harbor, FL, 2014, pp. 14 and 33-35
“Though it has plausibly been seen as employing Gothic, Art Nouveau, English Arts and Crafts, and other stylistic motifs,” David Cathers wrote of this design for a revolving desk, “it is not quite like anything made before or since.”1 One could say the same about Charles Rohlfs himself. He was to furniture what George E. Ohr was to ceramics: a one-of-a-kind genius, whose work is legible within the turn-of-the-century context but also bursts free of it in an unclassifiable creative rush.

Before he was a furniture maker, Rohlfs tried other vocations: he was a patternmaker for a stove manufacturer, and then an aspiring Shakespearean actor. Both of these formative experiences have a bearing on his revolving desks. As in his chairs and other forms, he varied the ornament on them – adding a greater or lesser amount of relief carving, supplementing the fret-sawn cutouts with smoke-like whorls. The beautiful modulation of this work is something he would have learned as a pattern carver, preparing wooden forms for replication in cast metal.2

As for his stint as a thespian –there is something undeniably dramatic about Rohlfs’ revolving desks, which are not only kinetic, turning on concealed wooden wheels, but also have interiors like miniature stage sets. Some were provided with accompanying pen holders shaped like carved shoes, as if awaiting the arrival of performers.  As Joseph Cunningham has pointed out, period photographs of the desks always show them open; this is somewhat curious, given the beauty of the carving on their fall fronts.3 Perhaps Rohlfs was trying to emphasize their inherent theatricality – a message that comes through loud and clear to this day.

[1] David Cathers, Arts and Crafts Furniture From the Collection of the Two Red Roses Foundation (Two Red Roses Foundation, 2017), 33.

[2] See Sarah Fayen Scarlett, “The Craft of Industrial Patternmaking,” Journal of Modern Craft 4/1 (March 2011), 27-48.

[3] Joseph Cunningham, The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs (Yale University Press, 2008), 79.

GLENN ADAMSON