This beautiful solid mahogany Governor Winthrop Style mahogany desk was handmade in circa 1820 and has a very detailed Emblem featuring the national bird inlaid in the fall front desk surface.
The eagle was chosen as a national symbol only a few decades prior, as a bird of great strength and longevity. It is said that during an early morning battle during the Revolutionary War, a group of eagles were awakened and seen circling overhead. Patriots were said to have shouted, “they are shrieking for freedom,” and thus the eagle was adapted as the national bird.
Truly a high-soaring bird of majestic looks, the eagle also represents a romantic devotion to freedom. Freedom in worship, thought and commerce, as well as a freedom of expansion into great territories unknown, the American identity is in many ways tied to self-reliance and individual liberty. On this desk we see the Eagle with its wings outstretched, boldly displaying the striped crest featuring its 13 stripes, representing the unity of the 13 original colonies. He holds a spear in his left talon and a delicate olive branch in the other, symbols of war and peace. The sash behind the eagle represents another important part of the national emblem: this is where the unofficial motto, “E pluribus unum,” (translating to “one out of many”) is often seen. These important symbols show a great passion and patriotism; indeed there is nothing more patriotic and spirited than the national emblem. One must remember when observing this piece, this decoration is not achieved with the stroke of a brush but with the delicate and painstaking work of a master wood worker, laying his marquetry work within the desk surface. Each tiny piece must be cut and carved out of different species of woods (here, rosewood, satinwood and maple), and then an exact mirror image must be delicately carved out of the mahogany surface. These tiny puzzle pieces are then fitted and glued with hide glue inside the desk surface to achieve an incredible depth and artistry. A final planing and smoothing with a sanding stone or pumice by hand makes the surface beautifully smooth to the touch.
The interior of the desk also has beautiful Hepplewhite or Federal style inlay: it has a patera decoration inlay on the interior door, and alternating very fine striped inlay on two drawers. Scalloped pigeonholes complete the beautiful desk interior. It is incredible to witness this type of early craftsmanship, knowing it was completed by hand and before the invention of many modern tools. Likewise, hand dovetailing of the case and of the drawers give evidence of this mastery of wood work.
The desk was purchased from a collector’s estate in Frederick, Maryland and most likely was made in this region. One of the ideals of this time period was universal suffrage among men, and access to education was inextricably linked to this idea. During the early 1800’s however, reading and writing were still reserved to the wealthy classes and thus this beautiful desk of high quality and craftsmanship could only have been commissioned by a wealthy merchant, politician or land owner.
Today, it has undergone a thorough and sensitive restoration, leaving the beautiful mahogany grain and inlay to be appreciated as we imagine it was in the early 19th century. There are however, a few signs of age, a small chip on a drawer and a few mars to the desk surface. It is nonetheless a striking, patriotic and handsome piece worthy of any period home or office.