Antique School Desks: Identification & Value Guide (2023)

Unlike many antiques, which may look boring, old school desks are fun! Just imagine all those talks and plans that they might have heard! But wait! These aren’t just a daily dose of nostalgia! You can also restore them as souvenirs or even make some money with them!

Now, you may ask how! Well, antique freaks love old school desks for their exotic wood and designs and are willing to pay thousands for antique models! So let’s find out if your old school desk is an antique or not, and if it is, how much it’s worth!

Key Takeaways

  • Crude, handcrafted desks with wood or cast iron frames, brackets, and screws are the most precious ones.
  • Get old school desks with Walnut, Oak, or Cast Iron table tops for an old make. And you can guess the material by checking its color or age.
  • You’ll get five types of school desks – Simple wood, Inkwell, Standing, Adjustable, and One arm in the antique market. So price them according to their brand and patents.
  • Try to get Victorian, Chinese, or Jean Prouve-style school desks for the best returns! Also, check their hardware and rarity for better value.

What Features Make a School Desk Old & Antique?

Identifying antique school desks is no longer an expert’s job! In fact, just like other antiques, you can spot these by a patina, crude joints, and chips with these.

But that’s not all! Dealers say a school desk is antique only if its table is 24 – 32 inches high. Also, it must be 20 – 40″ long and 14 – 28″ deep and have some old features as follows:

  • Hand-crafted details – dovetail joints, brackets, staples, and other ironwork
  • Use of exotic wood frames – Oak, Pine, Maple, and Cherry with iron rivets
  • Individual or attached chairs with height-adjusting brackets and screws
  • Storage options – shelves or compartments with carved drawers or scrollwork
  • Aging marks – scratches, dents, worn paint, and rusty hinges
  • Chairs with side-table arrangements and flip-up tops

When and How Did Antique School Desks Become Popular?

You all might not know this, but the first 1700s school desks were like crude plank benches and desks. They had no lacquers, seasoning, or storage! Plus, they were short and narrow. So, the children weren’t too comfortable, and it was time for a renovation!

Thankfully, Anna Breadin came to the rescue! First, she increased the desk height and then added some curved metal legs for space. And such models fetch up to $150 even today!

Then came the Lancasterian desks, which were more for mass education. Like, they were long and continuous, with slanting tops and inkwells. But since they felt tight and suffocating, schools didn’t use them that much. And hence the low production and rarity!

By the 1900s, schools had tight budgets and didn’t want fancy, carved desks. So, makers moved to minimal, functional forms. Thus, you’ll see some extra inkwells, height levers, and steel modular designs. It’s just that they are a bit cheaper.

5 Main Types of Antique School Desks & Their Value Guide

It’s not like people from old times used the same plank-style school desks every time. Most schools even explored some custom designs, leading to the five types below.

1. Simple Wood Desk

Antique Simple Wood School Desk from the 1800s

Ever observed the simple, two-piece desks they show in cartoons? Well, simple wood desks looked the same and had long oak or pine sections with dovetail joints.

Besides, you will also spot thick, 50 mm tapering legs. But these types of desks had no drawers or hooks. Overall, you can price them at $20 – 380.

2. Inkwell School Desks

Vintage School Desks with an Inkwell

Just as the name says, inkwell desks come with a round ink hole on the upper rim. Most have composite wood and iron bodies and pegged legs for support. You’ll also see drawers, pencil grooves, and foldable seats with these. So, you can charge about $50 – 200.

3. Old Standing School Desks

Antique standing desks are the easiest to spot! First, they have a rotating plank with a pulley that forms a seat and a desktop. So, students can use this while standing and sitting. Next, these desks have deep, all-wood storage boxes and joints; you can price them around $80 – 150.

4. Adjustable School Desks

Antique Adjustable School Desk with Sliding Top

Adjustable desks are fully functional and flexible desks from the 1930s. So, you’ll see different hydraulic screws, levers, and brackets with these. Deep cubbies, leg boards, and ladder backs would also be there. Price-wise, they are a bit costly, at $80 – 250.

5. One Arm School Desks

You can spot these desks by their table-attached arms and 90° levers. Most have a single body with slatted backs and bases for strength. However, since their desks were fixed to the right, they were really uneasy lefty children. So, they are cheap, only $15 – 100.

7 Factors to Identify & Estimate an Old School Desk’s Value

Now, we have seen all about the construction and joints! But I am sure your antique school desk has some exotic materials and styles. So, let’s learn more about that:

1. Antique School Desk Age & Patent Numbers

Antique School Desks with Attached Front Chairs

Usually, it’s the crude, hand-jointed antiques that steal the bid at any auction. But, with vintage school desks, things are a bit different! Here, it’s the 1800s desks that fetch the highest value. This is because they are more portable, decorative, and easy to store!

But how do you know the manufacturing year of your school desk? Well, the first step is to check the stamps or patent numbers on the base. And below, we have some for reference:

YearAgePatent NumberEstimated Valuation
1868155 yearsUS82061A (Patent for Foldable School Desks)$30 – 175
1889134 yearsUS400738A (Anna Breadin’s Patent for Attached Desks)$80 – 150
193093 yearsUS1883322A (For Adjustable School Desks)$40 – 200

But if your vintage school desk doesn’t have a patent, check out these clues:

The 1700s – 1800s School Desks

Old school desks from the 1700s are long and continuous, with detached chairs. Also, look for solid wood, curved legs, and dovetail joints. You’ll also see some Colonial influence, but you might not see the leg boards and storage box! These desks cost $70 – 150.

The 1800s – 1900s School Desks

The 1800s school desks are more composite. Like, you’ll see iron frames and screws, but with a traditional wooden base. You’ll also see metal storage boxes, leg boards, and inkwells.

Also, notice their styles and finishes! Since the 1800s were all about retro glamor, you can expect to see finished, Victorian desks costing $800 – 2000. But, if they are plain and unbranded, you can price them up to $150.

The 1900s School Desks

The 1900s were all about minimalism! So, if your old school desk has polished chrome finishes, a single-piece body, or screws, it must be from the 1900s. Here, fixed, detached desks cost $80 – 90, but branded folding desks can cost up to $200.

Most antique school desks have another bench attached to the chair’s back. If so, you can hike your chair’s value by 4- 5%.

2. Antique School Desk Materials

Antique School Desk with Solid Oak or Pine Table Tops

Now, antique school desks have different materials, but the ones with dark Oak or Cherry planks value the most! And if they are fully restored or foldable, you can hike their value by 10 – 12%.

Besides that, even hand-lacquered cast iron or block board desks sell well!

Here’s how much you can charge for each vintage school desk material:

Old School Desk MaterialsValue for Desks with Attached ChairsValue for Desks with Detached Chairs
Solid Wood – Walnut, Oak, Pine, Cherry$55 – 250; But large, branded ones can cost up to $1700$70 – 200
Composite Wood – Ply or Block Board$30 – 120$40 – 100
Cast, Carbide, or Alloyed Cast Iron$40 – 170$30 – 80
Stainless or Galvanized Steel, ChromeUp to $30, but branded ones can cost up to $70N.A
Plastic or Plastic CompositeUp to $20$5 – 15
Aluminum or FiberglassRoughly $10 – 20, can go up to $80 if brandedN.A

Look for school desks with typical wax, oil, shellac, or paraffin finishes for an old make.

3. Vintage School Desk’s Color

Different color of Vintage School Desk

Well, it’s obvious that bare wood or metal desks will be the most valuable! But you can also look for hand-lacquered beige or brown desks if you want some color. And here, you can hike the value by 30 – 40% if they are restored or styled.

Also, look for dual-toned or multicolored wood tops! These have unique finishes and textures, costing about $150 if polished.

Old School Desk ColorAverage Cost
Bare Wood or Metal$55 – 250 for unbranded, and up to $1000 for branded desks
Beige, Brown, or Golden$15 – 80, but colonial-style ones cost up to $250
Black & Gray$19 – 110
Red, Green, Blue$19 – 30 for regular and up to $125 for branded ones
Multicolored$30 – 150

Avoid buying desks with colored laminates or veneers, as those are new and cheaper! Instead, try to get the translucent, hand painted ones for the best value.

4. Antique School Desk Styles

Antique School Desk Styles

If you don’t want simple, plain desks, look for ones with carved Victorian or Art Deco designs. You can also look for foreign-made Jean Prouve or Welsh desks for rare exotic wood bodies and designs.

Here are some popular antique school desk styles and their features:

Old School Desk StylesTop FeaturesEstimated Value
Provincial Styles – Victorian, Baroque, or Art DecoFloral or Arched Carvings, Looped Sections, and Filigree Work$180 – 2000, depending on the size and condition
Asian or ChineseSingle-piece wooden desk with single-seat stools and loop hardware$600 – 1800
Fashion School Desk ( Sydney Furniture Company, Ohio)Narrow and high table tops with attached chairs at the back$70 – 200
William & Mary School Masters DeskDouble-story desks with drawers and footrests$900 – 1700
Jean Prouve or WelshMinimal forms, Sleek steel sections, and detached chairs$1000 – 5000

5. Old School Desk Brands

Old School Desk Brands

Now, let’s see if your antique school desk is branded! For this, look for any etched marks or logos on the desk’s table, base, or chair. Other than that, you can check the drawers for any trademarks or tax scripts to track their age!

Below are a few easy-to-collect antique school desk brands for help:

Old School Desk BrandsBase Price
Art Deco School Desks by Rene Herbst$5000 – $20,000 as per size
Oak Craft School Desks$800 – 4500
George M. Hammer & Co.$200 – 600
Langslow Fowler Company$150 – 400

Avoid getting school desks with damaged or faded tops or broken hooks, chairs, and footboards, as those might lower the value by 12 – 15%.

6. Rare School Desks

You might be surprised to know that original Chippendale or Harvard school desks sell for as high as $20,000! That’s because they were designed by an on-site designer with rare, exotic woods and finishes that are rare! So, make sure to check the desk’s history before valuing it!

Here are some rare, high-value school desks to look for:

Rare School DesksBase Price
Oak Desk from Harvard Divinity School$5200
Vintage Industrial Jean Prouvé Style One-Seat School Desk$1400
Early American Raise Top School Desk$1450
Antique Derby School Paneled Oak Roll Top Desk with Full Interior$4400

7. Old School Desk Hardware

Antique school desks with original cast iron sliding pulls, lockers, and tambours get good returns compared to the hinged ones. Also, check if the hardware has floral, Byzantine, or arched sections for a better valuation.

How Old Are Antique School Desks?

Antique school desks are usually 100 – 120 years old. So, any old desk manufactured in the early 1700s to the late 1900s is considered antique.

Why Do Antique School Desks Have Holes?

Small, 2-3 inch holes on the desk’s top right corner allowed students to keep the inkpots and pencils in place. And these inkwells raise the desk’s value by 10 – 12%.

How Do You Remove Grime From Antique School Desks?

Take a soft, scouring brush and dust all the edges and corners thoroughly. Next, rub all the wooden parts with denatured alcohol and wipe them with baby wipes to remove the grime.

Well, identifying old school desks is easy! Just as we saw, start by checking the type and then move to more details like age and color. If you find that their finishes are faded, you can restore them to hike your value! Just be careful, and don’t cover the brand names!

And if you need more tips on identifying and valuing antiques like ‘shovels,’ ‘tobacco pipes,’ or ‘pedal cars,’ follow us now!

Judith Miller
Judith Miller

Judith is an antique expert with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of antique identification and valuation. She has reviewed over 30 thousand vintage items and has worked with numerous antique shops. She enjoys seeing new places, attending antique shows and events, and sharing her knowledge with people! Know more about me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *