Rare Victorian - c1850 John Jelliff Lady’s Writing Desk
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c1850 John Jelliff Lady’s Writing Desk

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I think we’re all used to seeing pieces done by John Jelliff in the forms of sofas and chairs, most with the trademark carved arms with figures of animals and humans. Here is a lady’s writing desk attributed to Jelliff and done in Rosewood. It measures approximately 64.5″ high by 36.75″ wide by 23 3/4″ deep. Believed to date from the pre-Civil War period, c1845-1855. Bidding ends February 25th and starts at $750. Expected range is $7,750 to $9,000.

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As with many Jelliff pieces, it features elements of gothic, renaissance and French rococo style. Included is the original key that works all of the locks to the top drawers. (Key for the center main drawer is missing, and we’re not sure if the main drawer lock is in working condition.) Overall condition is very good. Leather top was replaced sometime a while ago. Scratched into the underside rear skirt are words in script which appear to read “Refinished 1881” and another word or two which we have not yet deciphered. Dowels in the underside of the top drawer/etagere section fit firmly into the desktop. There is a good degree of color difference between the covered desk surface and surrounding surface, which further supports the belief the desk was refinished in the late nineteenth century.

A very similar desk by Jelliff was acquired by the Newark Museum in the early 1980s, by their longtime Curator of Decorative Arts, Ulysses Dietz. Dietz discussed this desk in his article for the magazine “Antiques” in their May, 1986 issue, on pages 1096-1099. (Copies of the entire article will be gladly forwarded upon request.) It is interesting to note that the desk acquired by the Newark museum is made of mahogany, while our desk is made of rosewood. Recently Mr. Dietz was kind enough to view our desk and attributed the piece to Jelliff. Our desk was made without a bottom stretcher and features hand-carved floral designs on left and right sides, unlike the Jelliff desk in the Newark Museum collection.

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