Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Captain's Desk

On a recent trip home, my father proudly showed me one of our family's more infamous heirlooms, which had recently come down to him. Known amongst the relatives as the "Captain's Desk," it was built for my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Ebenezer Cooley (really, shouldn't everyone have someone named Ebenezer in their family tree?).

He was born in 1768 in Sunderland Massachusetts, but lived most of his life in Norwich, Connecticut, where he died in 1838. Good ol' Eb really was a captain with a ship of his own that he used to ship goods to and from the West Indies. So he likely imported his own exotic hardwood up to Connecticut and had a local joiner make him a desk.

Of course, what most excited my dad about the desk was its "secret" drawer. As in many desks of the period, the small central door opens onto an arched cavity, but the decorative bit of woodwork at the top of the archway is actually a drawer that can be pulled forward.

What my dad didn't know is that once you take that drawer out, you can also pull out the side walls of the cavity. Each "wall" is actually a thin wooden box with about an inch-wide hollow slot. It was pretty great to see the look on my parents' faces when I revealed this extra layer of secret compartmentation to them. I guess I really am learning something about antiques!