An entry made in the 1790s in the records of the cabinetmakers Gillow of Lancaster stated ‘Captain Davenport, a desk’. This is thought to be the first recorded example of the small writing cabinets now known by the Captain’s name.
The basic form of a Davenport consisted of a small chest of drawers with a small desk compartment on top. This form changed very little throughout the 19th century when most of the examples we see today were made.
Most Davenports have four drawers opening to the side, with simulated drawer fronts on the opposite side. Some examples do differ slightly with cupboards concealing the drawers and these were also symmetrical with opposing dummy cupboards. Most Davenports were fitted with castors for easier mobility and because of the stand alone quality of them all four sides were equally well veneered and finished.
The top section generally comprises of a sloping lid, inset with a tooled leather writing surface. The first Davenports had a top section that would slide forward to accommodate the writer’s legs, but by the mid 19th century they were beginning to be built with the desk section fixed in the writing position, often supported by elaborately scrolled and turned brackets.
The popularity of the Davenport lasted right up until the end of the 19th century, but they became very over ornamented and of clumsy proportions and it is generally accepted that these later styles did not match either the quality or the craftsmanship of those made in the 1860s.
Senior Valuer Michael Dowse
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