What does the Jefferson lap desk look like?

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Okay. This is a desk that Thomas Jefferson had built to his specifications when he was a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and he-- He described it as a writing box and that's a pretty good description of it. It has-- It's about 14 inches-- When it's folded up and closed, it is about 14 inches long and about 10 inches wide and about three inches deep, so if you think of a sort of a bulky laptop computer, that's about the size that you're looking at. Now, it has a-- So, if you think of it as a laptop computer or the size of a laptop computer, those are the dimensions, the approximate dimensions that you're dealing with. It can be used as a book rest to read a book or the top can be unfolded and used as a writing surface. The underside of the lid has a little-- Has two pairs of feet. It's actually a joined set of feet, described as an easel so you can tilt the top of it up to read a book with a little book rest ledge on it or you could unfold the whole thing and then you have the writing surface with this-- It has a green felt-like covering that's called baize which is the writing surface and this is the surface that you'll never see unfolded in the museum because of the light level restrictions. The desk also has a drawer, a sliding drawer with a handle that you can pull open and inside is a compartment for paper and also the first thing you notice are the little compartments, one of which contains an ink well which is a blown glass crystal ink well. It fits into a compartment and then there're other slots for quills and nibs which are the metal pen points and he would've kept the nibs and the quills and perhaps a knife for sharpening in the drawer and also the drawer is sort of stained with ink because he used this for his entire life, 49 years before he gave it away as a wedding present, so one of the remarkable things about it is that when he made it a gift, he attached an affidavit to it in his own hand and I don't have the copy with me. I'd prefer to read it direct, but he testifies that this is actual desk on which he had drafted the Declaration of Independence and when he was in Philadelphia in 1776 and, and of course, that was probably the last thing that he wrote on it and then he glued it to the underside of the desk.


Interview with Larry Bird, National Museum of American History, May 31, 2006.