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Slant-lid desk

Chester County, Pennsylvania



41 3/4 in x 39 3/8 in x 21 3/4 in


Walnut and maple; tulip poplar (drawer sides and backs, backboards, dust boards), white cedar (drawer bottoms), sweet gum (also called red gum, interior small drawer sides), walnut (interior small drawer backs).

Credit Line

Historic Odessa Foundation, The David Wilson Mansion, Inc.

Accession Number



“Westtown School 1794” is engraved into a brass tag screwed onto the top front of the prospect door; “Recd. Westtown PA. 5 mo 31st 1894 / of Phebe N Votaw Twelve & 50/100 dol- / in full for an old fashion desk / and the packing and taking to / sta- / H Haines Farmer,” written in ink on paper, is glued to the inside of the prospect door.  “James Davis / 4 mo 2nd 1876” and “James Davis / Westtown Farm” are written in pencil on the underside and the outer proper left drawer side of a small drawer behind the prospect door.

Condition Notes

The brasses are replacements.  The miniature brasses on the candle drawers are conceptually inaccurate reproductions that replaced simple brass pulls.  Rollers have been added to the undersides of the full-width drawers to facilitate movement, and cast-iron brackets with sleeves for castor stems now to reinforce the glue blocks inside the bracket feet.


Ex coll. Mrs. E. Tatnall (Mary Corbit) Warner.  See the text below for further details.  A paper receipt now glued to the inside of the door of the desk interior records its 1894 purchase by Hamilton Haines (1848-1925), “farmer,” from Phebe Nicholson Votaw (1854-1933) of Haddonfield, New Jersey, and a student (1871-73) and mathematics teacher (after 1874) at the Westtown School in Westtown, Pennsylvania. James Davis, whose name is also inscribed, served as farm manager at the Westtown School from 1875-85 and may have owned the desk before Votaw.


The small “candle” drawers at the top corners of the desk and the outline of the straight-bracket feet are two prominent features of Philadelphia regional desks.  The history of the desk focuses its origins on Chester County. The flat, uncarved desk interior suggests late-eighteenth-century design preferences.  Although its relative simplicity might have been attributable to the lower cost of making, this interior displays striped maple column drawers flanking a prospect door of fine mahogany.   

The brass plaque on the prospect door with “Westtown School 1794” was probably mounted by Mrs. Warner, who attended the Westtown School and later bought the desk.  The date has no apparent meaning, and based on the recorded provenance, she likely did not use the desk when she was a student in 1863 and 64.


Zimmerman, A Storied Past, 114-115.