The Antique Detective: Pricey Wooton Desks Old and New Still Attract Buyers

By Anne Gilbert
   To a generation used to sterile cubby hole office spaces for them and their computers, the Wooton desks may seem an oddity. Strangely enough they are finding their way into many home offices. There is room for that lap top and spaces for all kinds of office supplies. They were a popular and useful antique collectible in the late 20th century and expensive. Even todays reproductions are expensive.
   In late 19th century America new businesses were opening daily. To meet their needs new types of furniture made strictly for offices were created. The desk became the most important piece piece of furniture. It also became a status symbol for the wealthy.
   Of all the office furniture designed during the late 19th century it was the Wooton patent desk, made by William S. Wooton of Indianapolis, Indiana, that was the most unique. It offered a miracle of storage in one compact place. It was expensive but that didn’t stop it being purchased by millionaires such as John D. Rockefeller and Joseph Pulitizer. However, it came in four price grades: extra superior, superior, ordinary and standard.
   Originally it was designed for railway offices and business that required varied storage, writing and filing in a small space.
   What made it unique were its swing-out, compartmented and fitted bombe doors. Above and below the fall-fronted writing surface were still more compartmented storage spaces.
   The most elegant Wootons were made of mahogany and rosewood with incised carving. They often combined oak and burl oak with ornate brass hardware. The less expensive versions were of walnut or cherry.    Parts were machine made during the 1870s in the popular Renaissance Revival style. By the 1880s furniture fashions changed and the simple, straight lines of Eastlake defined the fashionable Wooton.
   Popularity bred copies that included smaller, simpler versions that were patented. A Chicago company, T.E.Gordon & Son, made vertical sylinder desks. The rounded tops and base opened out, offering pigeonholes, similar to the Wooton version.
   There were even miniature Wootons made for children.
   CLUES: By the early 20th century roll top desks had replaced the Wooton. And like the Wooton they were mass produced and reproduced. Original 19th century Wootons still turn up at auctions. Prices range from $25,000 to $250,000. If you like the concept check auctions and eBay.

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