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Desk with Adjustable Top

Desk with Adjustable Top. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.Artist/Maker: Denis Louis Ancellet

Created: c. 1785

Origin/Purchase: Paris

Materials: mahogany and oak

Dimensions: 70.5 × 86.4 × 58.4 (27 3/4 × 34 × 23 in.)

Location: Library (Book Room)

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Thomas Jefferson Randolph; by descent to Alex B. Randall and Burton H. R. Randall; by gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1927

Accession Number: 1927-61

Historical Notes: This unusual mahogany table was specifically conceived for drawing. The adjustable top lifts up, and can be tilted to the angle desired by the user. The sliding supports for the top, encased in the front legs when closed, have had extra notches cut into them to allow the top to be raised higher for Jefferson, who was six feet two and a half inches tall. The square, very slightly tapering legs have a carved panel topped by a semicircle; it was this ornamental motif that was copied on a Monticello-made side table by John Hemmings and his helpers in the Joiner's Shop on Mulberry Row. The legs terminate in brass cup casters. The brass bail pull on the single drawer is a replacement.

The desk's maker was Denis Louis Ancellet, whose stamp is impressed on the bottom of the left side rail. Ancellet was an ébéniste, who was made a master in 1766. While Jefferson lived in Paris, his establishment was located on the rue Saint-Nicolas. Ancellet was successful, and his works were popular with furniture merchants.1 Jefferson's memorandum book does not mention Ancellet by name. It is presumed that he purchased this desk, properly called a table à la tronchin as he did most of his furniture, through a merchant. It may have been the table en pupitre for which he paid 36 livres on July 24, 1789, and transported to America in case thirty-nine.2 The desk was shipped to Monticello in 1793; it might have been one of "deux tables de la bibliotheque" that were packed in the first crate among Jefferson's belongings shipped to Richmond for Monticello.3

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 308

Filed In: 
Objects, Furniture


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