The Portable Writing desk — the Victorian laptop

Focusing on the materiality of writing, this page offers a brief but fascinating overview of how design and culture affect the act of writing (and vice-versa).

Just as we find laptops essential for writing, researching, and storing valuable information, the Victorians found their writing desks indispensable for storing writing materials; valuables, including money and jewelry; vital documents, such as passports and wills; and private correspondence, such as billets-doux.

There were four basic types of portable writing desks. The simplest consists of a box with a sloping lid, hinged at either top or bottom; if the hinge is at the top, the lid serves as the writing surface, but if the hinge is at the bottom, the lid folds down and acts as a writing slope or surface. A second type has two lids: the outside lid folds down to form a writing slope that extends the writing surface of the inside lid; in turn, the inside lid folds down to reveal a space for writing materials. The third and most common type of writing desk is a rectangle box divided on a slant and hinged at the center; when the writer opens the box, the two halves form a solid writing surface; both halves of the desk have storage space for writing materials. The fourth type, also typically shaped like a rectangle, is composed of three sections: the top section raises into an upright position and can, for example, hold stationery or, in the case of a combination desk, serve as a a dressing case or sewing case; in this type of desk, the second section, which folds down, forms a continuous writing surface with the third section. —The Portable Writing desk — the Victorian laptop.