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American Secretaries

Significant progress in the fields of bookbinding and letterpress printing in the 18th and 19th centuries led to a proliferation of books, periodicals and printed literature in the United States. This influx created an advanced need to store and absorb an increasing number of volumes of printed material.

John Percy Blake and ?Alfred Edward Reveirs-Hopkins described the era in their 1911 book, The Period of Queen Anne: “It is the age of the diarists...the age of the pamphleteers and essayists…” and with it came a desire for desks with integrated storage to house their works.

The word secretary is derived from the Latin word for writer, secretarius, and was adopted by cabinetmakers to describe “lady’s desks.” Originating in the Queen Anne period, they enjoyed continuing popular in the Chippendale era before being downsized in the Regency and American Federal periods.

Secretaries have built-in storage at the top and a lower drop-down desk for writing with double cabinet doors above with shelves, drawers, or a mix of cubby holes and slots within. They artfully marry storage and organization with an architectural quality that not only adds aesthetic beauty to a room, but can also be closed to quickly conceal clutter.


Quick Facts

  • In June 2015, a George I walnut secretary dating to the first quarter of the 18th century sold at Bonhams for $2,500
  • A circa 1860 museum-quality Thomas Brooks rosewood secretary desk went for $21,280 at a December 2011 Stevens Auctions sale
  • In 1989 at Christie's in New York, a bonnet-topped mahogany secretary that was probably crafted by pre-Revolutionary period Rhode Island cabinetmaker John Goddard sold for more than $3 million

Recommended Items at Auction

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American Sheraton Mahogany Secretary
Oct 30, 10:00 AM EDT
American Sheraton Mahogany Secretary
by Neue Auctions
Est: $600- $1,000
$3000 Bids
TWO-PART CHIPPENDALE BUTLER'S SECRETARY
Nov 13, 11:00 AM EST
TWO-PART CHIPPENDALE BUTLER'S SECRETARY
by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
Est: $1,000- $2,000
$5000 Bids
TROMPE L'OEIL PAINTED TWO-PART BOMBE SECRETARY BY JOHN R. HUNT (LATE 20TH C. UK)
Nov 14, 11:00 AM EST
TROMPE L'OEIL PAINTED TWO-PART BOMBE SECRETARY BY JOHN R. HUNT (LATE 20TH C. UK)
by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
Est: $2,000- $3,000
$1,0000 Bids
LARGE HAND CARVED MAHOGANY SECRETARY HUTCH
Oct 29, 7:00 PM EDT
LARGE HAND CARVED MAHOGANY SECRETARY HUTCH
by Chamberlain Auction Gallery
Est: $1,500- $1,800
$3000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell American Secretaries


Thomaston Place Auction Galleries

Thomaston Place Auction Galleries

Eldred's

Eldred's

Chamberlain Auction Gallery

Chamberlain Auction Gallery

Neue Auctions

Neue Auctions