Especially if your desk, like many sold in the "Sears, Roebuck & Co." or "Montgomery Ward" catalogs from the 1880s to the end of the 1920s, was factory-built, you may recognize it by its measurements as much as by its design.Perfectly symmetrical measurements are a clue that your desk was factory- rather than hand-made. Early roll-tops were built of heavy woods such as black walnut, and small local companies might choose from a variety of local hardwoods.
Early patents focused on fabric-backed slats; wire-joining suggests later repair or local ingenuity.
Especially if your desk has remained in a single family and has not had restorative care, the assembly may offer clues to the manufacturer and therefore the age of the desk.
A piece that has spent several generations in the same family may have been manufactured locally, and company history can help you determine its age.
Dovetail joints often hold two boards together in a box or drawer, almost like interlocking the fingertips of your hands.
Making a rubbing as well as a photo may highlight detail hard to see even in good light. Your desk may show the proud work of a local locksmith or a style of lock plate or key popular during a particular period.
Look closely at how drawers on your desk are assembled.For thousands of years, a dovetail joint was created by a skilled cabinetmaker using small, precision saws and wood chisels.Tiny angled saw cuts were followed by careful cutting by a sharpened chisel on both sides to avoid splintering.A wide variety of resources can help you come close to dating an antique roll-top desk.Take a thorough set of measurements for your desk, including height, depth and width of both the bottom desk and the tambour, or roll-top.Most popular toward the end of the 19th century, close-grained oak was often quarter-sawn, or cut to promote a particularly even grain, reducing the possibility of warping and increasing durability.