One Slant-top Something From Some Time & Somewhere!


It’s difficult to prove a negative. So when readers suggested there was no such thing as a slant-top chest or container after this post and this one, I knew that the Internet would provide.

Indexer Suzanne Ellison turned up this interesting example from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It’s called out as a “desk cupboard,” and the evidence suggests it was elevated on a stand at some point in its history.

Check out the full description of the item and the dendrochronology stuff. It’s nice to see that some of the people at the V&A know their woodworking stuff.

So one example doesn’t prove that this was the item shown in the 14th-century images from the original post. But it does show – as always – that early woodworkers were capable of almost any furniture form we can conceive of today.

— Christopher Schwarz

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20 Responses to One Slant-top Something From Some Time & Somewhere!

  1. It reminds me of a “poor box” for accepting donations, although I’d expect in that case for it to have a small slot in the top. Since they describe it as being used for writing I’m assuming it’s bigger than that, anyway. Neat find, certainly… indexing at its sauciest. 🙂

  2. jdcook72 says:

    It looks like there are two bracing systems on the lid: one at the sides of the lid to hold it at a horizontal position and one in the middle to hold it in an open position.

  3. toolnut says:

    Elevated on a stand and it would look an awful lot like a church podium

  4. Rachael Boyd says:

    wow… the Lions heads are carved in the end grain I never ever seen that before is that a rare thing.

  5. This is clearly a lectern. A stand on which a bible is placed so that it may be read while the reader is standing, hence why it was originally on a stand.

  6. Sean Hughto says:

    I have no knowledge or opinion on the ubiquity of slant-top chests, but I wonder: What is the advantage of a slant top? I suppose we would all agree that classic curved top trunks were very common, and in a way, slant tops are just linear versions of the classic curved top.

    • Slant top writing desks were very common in the middle ages, especially for monks who spent all day copying books and manuscripts by hand. A slightly slanted desk top is actually more comfortable than writing on a flat top. You can find examples of slanted desks and lap desks all the way into the late 1800s. It seems that by the 20th century something happened that changed the way we write.

      • tsstahl says:

        ” by the 20th century something happened that changed the way we write.”

        The light came from a different direction. As lights moved overhead (and became way more common), things became flatter and less cubby-holish. That is my belief; I am in no way claiming to be authoritative on the subject. 🙂

        Seriously, I’m sure there are many other factors that contributed to the decline of ergonomic writing surfaces.

  7. It’s not medieval, but haven’t you blogged about a slant-lid chest before? Like, say, right here:

    And a cursory Google image search would turn up numerous images of historical examples. Like this:

    And there are dozens of them on Pinterest:

  8. shopsweeper says:

    I had to go back in time to the 1970s but my grandparents did have a fine “Taters N Onions” bin in the kitchen. It was even labelled as such if memory serves.

    I hope this in not a prelude to birdhouses and pocket screws. Oh wait, the birdhouses are the only missing element now. 😛

    • The egregious “Taters N Onyuns” bins are still a common sight in the homes of Southerners of a certain generation.

      • tsstahl says:

        Thank you. Just like avocado green, they ain’t going anywhere. 😉

      • Nor would I suggest that they should go anywhere! I stand to inherit a Tater N Onyun bin in due time, and I suspect it will be a nice place to store the over-sized Indonesian teak fork and spoon that hang on the wall above the aforementioned bin until all can be properly disposed of in a yard sale 😀

      • shopsweeper says:

        I should probably mention that Oma and Opa’s bin is in my kitchen at the moment. Some other relative got our giant fork and spoon (olive wood in my family).

  9. Niels Cosman says:

    Hubba hubba!
    I knew my Dutch tool chest design was missing something but I wasn’t quite sure what.
    It was lion heads. Duh!

  10. Aaron Smith says:

    My first thought was Lectern or Podium. However, with that steep slope, I’d expect a rail at the bottom for a bible to rest on. This doesn’t seem like a useful design when the slope would cause most papers or bound books to fall.

  11. oltexasboy says:

    Ergonomic writing surface, hum, Well my Granddaddy had one in the barn, not so elaborately adorned ,with a slant lid, because the mice won’t normally set on top of a slanted top and eat. He kept his “good stuff” in it and it was made of hand hewed white oak. like the barn. Old Kentucky farmers had a lot of stuff we as the beholder, instead of the user, find interesting and whimsical, they just made it and used it like intended.

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