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Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Mahogany slant-front desk


Hi Fred, I have a mahogany slant-front desk passed down through my family that I thought was from the early 1800's, however, I suspect it is more recent. The story I was told of this desk was that it was brought to Kentucky from Virginia on a wagon between 1820 and 1835 with my great-great-great-grandmother when she was a young girl and the family relocated. Can you tell me when this desk dates from, it's style and perhaps who made it? There appears to be a mark of 241 MAH on the back and some written numbers following - 688, I believe. Otherwise, I have not found any other identifying labels or marks. It has four ball/claw feet and 2 hidden compartments. I have seen similar hardware in pictures, but not this exact style. This desk was my grandmother's and I used it for homework as a child (in fact, some of the damage is from me - shame!). Regardless of how old it is, I will always remember it fondly, but I would like to put to rest the question of its age. I appreciate your help!

Tina - As you have found out, oral family history is the least reliable source for accurate information about family genealogy and family furniture.

The desk is a Colonial Revival reproduction of an 18th century Chippendale drop front desk, circa 1780.

Your desk is from the 20th century, probably 1930s or 1940s. The back is single piece of plywood. A 19th century piece would have a back made of individual planks. The serpentine drawer fronts are covered in ribbon stripe mahogany veneer. The drop front is probably solid mahogany because it is made of two horizontal planks and two vertical “breadboard” ends. The real clincher will be drawer joinery. 18th and 19th century drawers are assembled with hand made dovetail joints joining the front and the sides. Handmade dovetails usually have only three pins and three tails (the interlocking pieces). 20th century dovetails are machine made with all the pins and tails the same size and they run continuously from top to bottom.

Another clue to 20th century origin is the label “241  MAH.” That is a factory label for color, not wood. A great deal of the desk, the entire interior and possibly the feet, are made of a secondary woods, probably gum, that had to be stained to match the mahogany. It is a factory made, mass produced piece and without a maker’s label there is no way to tell who the manufacturer may have been.

The small interior door is called a “prospect” door. The pull out columns that flank it are called “document drawers.” The desk is said to have a “fitted” interior. The interior was assembled as one unit and then installed into the desk from the rear before the plywood back was attached, another 20th century innovation.

Thanks for writing and thanks for the excellent photos. Enjoy the desk.


Fred Taylor  

Collectibles-General (Antiques)

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Fred Taylor


I will attempt to answer questions about American antique furniture, including construction details, style, period, manufacturers, care, repair and storage. I do not have any background in appliances, musical instruments, sewing machines, trunks, lighting, clocks or children's and baby furniture and will not respond to questions about those items.


I ran an antique furniture restoration business for twenty years. I am a nationally syndicated columnist on the subject of antique furniture for such publications as Antique Week and New England Antiques Journal. I have produced one video on the subject of furniture identification and my book "HOW TO BE A FURNITURE DETECTIVE" is now available.I have also published articles in Antique Trader, Chicago Art Deco Society, Northeast Magazine, Victorian Decorating and Lifestyles, Professional Refinishing, Antiques and Art Around Florida and Antique Shoppe. You can visit my website at

BSBA Finance, University of Florida, MBA Finance, University of Florida

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