Antiquarian Traders, in business since 1977, has always specialized in collecting the finest quality of American 19th century antique desks, including the one and only Wooton Patent Secretary, a magnificent example of American craftsmanship at its best.  We also have an unparalleled collection of fabulously carved American Victorian Executive desks, Partners’ desks, Oak Rolltop desks, and Antique library tables.

Wooton Desks

wootonThese elaborate desks were designed and patented by William S. Wooton, born in 1835, the 8th of 13 children. In 1870 he formed the Wooton Desk Company after winning a $5 first prize for a school house desk at the Indiana State Fair for which he applied and was granted a U.S. patent in 1868 (#83,896). His most important patent #155,604 was granted on October 6, 1874 for “Wooton’s Patent Cabinet Office Secretary”. This ingenuity lead to full scale production in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1874 and continued through 1891, although Wooton retired and became a preacher in 1884. He died in 1907 at the age of 72. Wooton’s patents merged fine hand craftsmanship with the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution.  The design of the desks provided an ingenious solution to the businessman’s increasing problem of organization to keep up with the rapid expansion and growing complexity of business during this historical period. Wootons list of recorded customers demonstrates his accurate assessment of the businessman’s needs and the historical importance these desks played in the formation of American commerce. Presidents Grant, Garfield, Harrison, Queen Victoria, John D. Rockefeller, Joseph Scribner and Jay Gould were but a few of the luminaries who depended upon these desks to organize their daily routine.

wootonsuperiorEven today, the Smithsonian Institution still utilizes its patent secretary, purchased new in 1876 – one hundred and twenty-four years of continuous use. Probably the most recognized piece of the Victorian Era, the Wooton desk is the centerpiece of any 19th century American furniture exhibition. Most museums have ” The Desk of the Age ” in their collection. A 94 page book, published in 1983, by the Indiana State and Oakland Museums, is devoted solely to the history of the Wooton Desk company and the evolution of 19th Century office.

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Moore Desks


A Moore desk is not one but two large antique desk forms.  The “Moore Office Queen” is a massive desk, made for a sitting user. From the outside it looks, when closed, much like its competitor, the Wooton desk but it differs from it in several ways. For one, it has but a single large door to lock up the main work surface and the drawers and nooks around it, while the Wooton has two. More importantly (the manufacturer liked to boast about it) the main work surface slides in and out of the main body of the desk so that work can be stopped and the desk closed without having to put away everything, as is the case for the Wooton desk.

The “Moore Office Queen” was patented in 1878 in Indiana in the United States by the Moore Combination Desk Company.  The Office Queen has a modern descendant called the armoire desk.

The “Moore Insurance Desk” is nearly twice as big as the “Office Queen” and combines a standing desk and a normal “sitting” desk in a single piece of furniture. It was patented in 1882. Like the “Office Queen” it opens up by means of a single large door, and its internal work surface slides in and out. But it also has an external work surface to accommodate a standing user, on the other side of the desk. The standing user employs the “roof” of the desk of the sitting user as his (or her) work surface.

Moore combination desks were produced in standard, extra, and superior grades. Standard grade combination desks were $110 to $185. Extra grade desks were 40% to 50% more expensive. Superior were more expensive.  In her Smithsonian monography on the Wooton desk, Betty Lawson Walters notes the relative importance of the Moore desk as a competitor to the famous Wooton desk, and traces its origin and destiny.

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Victorian Desks

Victorian furniture in America cannot be discussed without recognizing the role the science of designing and manufacturing of woodworking machinery.  Between 1835 and 1850 the American manufacturing community developed an entire new system of woodworking machines that were more productive and less costly to operate than their European counterparts.  However, handmade furniture continued to be made by craftsman such John Jelliff (1813-1893), who created masterpieces in both the Renaissance Revival and Gothic Revival styles. The Industrial Revolution provided new capabilities and a new social elite, for the industrialists became America’s royalty. The style and sophistication of the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Cabots and the Lodges were studied, envied and copiously copied by the upper middle and middle classes whenever possible.