The Urban Archeologist: Things Found in Desks

What's in your desk?

Most of us look upon graffiti as an eyesore, but I feel differently. Graffiti is commonly considered writing that is placed in an illicit or illegal manner, but it is also defined as writing in places where it does not belong. The latter is what I search for when I am out on my weekend journeys.

The secret lives of societies past have been scrawled on book pages, walls and many other places often for no other reason than the lack of a proper note pad. Little did they know that they were going to leave us with no end of mysteries to unravel.

The desk pictured above was sitting in the hallway of an 18th century home, and though it had been placed there by the antique-collecting owners I was still intrigued by its history. Clearly a desk for some kind of bookkeeping or accounting, it was purchased from a New York auction house several decades ago. Could I just walk past it?

I did what I always do, I got out my flashlight and began to comb through it. Every piece of furniture has a story to tell, and desks, no matter how many owners they have passed through, are rife with nooks and crannies that can hide something from their past.  

When I lifted the top I saw a clean interior, but I also saw all kinds of notes and pencil scrawlings on the reverse side of the desktop. After taking several pictures and pouring over them I am not sure what I have. I do see and address or 2 and the oddest thing is a paragraph in the corner that is actually a “Lost & Found” notice.There was one scrap of paper, whose discovery gets credited to my eagle-eyed daughter. Deep inside the desk were what I’d hoped to be tax-stamps, but instead turned out to be department store premium stamps (I remember them as S&H Green stamps). Still, a cool find.  

Not every mystery needs to be explained, the fun for me is finding the thing that’s out of place and trying to at least understand it. I have another “Found in” to share. Click here! - This one was in a book, and while you may not want to be solicited for insurance, you might find this ad irresistible.   

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