The history of secret drawers and hidden compartments
Robert and Susannah Jones, a married couple, purchased a large used chest in 1642. The pair spent twenty years with their hearts before they wanted to switch them one day. We heard a rattling inside and investigated a hidden cabinet. A huge amount of papers, mysterious writings and signs, were poured out in an olivewood rosary. Some time before the couple planned to put paper back into the box, their maid used some half of the paper to make pastry. A couple years later Susannah, a widow now, has the courage to take the papers with her. When London's big fire broke out. The documents were a record of John Dee 's interactions with angels.
Secret compartments such as this have been a common characteristic of furniture in the Victorian era. I guess the paranoid engineering CEOs today are still in their modernistic escape bunker with some underground compartments.
The hidden drawer design comes to its zenith from a desk designed by the Roentgen brothers for King Friedrich William II. This thing has hidden drawers in hidden drawers, all operated by a sophisticated mechanical system:
The Roentgens – German decorators in the 18th century – were like the late founder of Apple Computer masters in the development of beautiful objects for households filled with brilliant, functionality and entertainment.
Their carefully built work is an amazing combination of art and engineering.
They were also able to market themselves, including much of the European royalty and aristocracy, with a list of customers.
At the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, more than 60 furniture pieces by father and son are currently on display. Their furnishings are exquisite and decorated with golden inlay and dizzying marquetry.
The job is always loaded with dark magic like any Apple app. The characteristic feature of the work is the innovative mechanical devices by Roentgen
which open cloaks, candlesticks, drawers and other compartments to the concealed writing surfaces.
Secrets for gold, stocks, ancestral jewels, silver coin, a lack of will, or a carefully crafted confession of a criminal offense committed years ago, were well served by fiction authors. So fine indeed, they are ideal for being considered as just literary props that help the plot and maintain the suspense required. Active people today retain their current assets and securities and shares and so on in safe deposit boxes in banks and markets. However, since the turn of the 19th century these have been existing only.
Before that, the man of property guarded his moving belongings against the robberies in heavy boxes and carefully concealed spaces in furniture and behind secret panels that confounded the outsider like the new, discreet mix.
Edgar Allen Poe tells in his mystery of the Purlosed Letter the thorough search of a compromise letter from a royal minister's apartments, Mr. G., Prefect of The Parisian Police. The French police chief says, "any man is a dolt who helps the 'code' to escape in such a search." "That is so clear. For any cabinet there is a certain amount of space to compensate for.
Naturally, it's Poe's detective boss, C. Auguste Dupin, who will actually locate the letter missing and get a 50,000 franc bonus. But next to the stage are the specifics of the plot. The prefect 's comprehensive statement on the stupidity of everyone who does not find a secret drawer shows that he knows little about the cabinetmaker 's know-how.
Over many years I know a collector who has owned a piece of furniture until I learn that it has has a hidden room. Just when a cabinetmaker is sent for comprehensive retrofitting has other items yielded their caches. Some pieces have a key, some have a ranking.
Occasionally I spent an afternoon in an American office who seemed very unaware to someone seeking to search the underground chambers. At the end, the owner came to my aid and found out that I overlooked some of them. At this simple slant-top desk there were 21. Some had been so small that only half a penny, or half a dozen pieces of continental currency could be accommodated. Others had been large enough for many letters; others were too small.
An oeuvre so filled with secrets is reminiscent of the answer that Robert Browning once asked about the significance of his particular poetry: "God and Robert Browning knew the meaning when I wrote it; only God knows the meanings."
In fact, I often wonder if all the secret compartments of your pieces were known to the original owners, or if they were aware of how much they used it. Unlike literature, in any piece of antique mourniture that has given some real value or even much appeal to me, there is always a hidden part.
The old officer is, however, realistic men and their know-how was certainly not lost by needless information. We can therefore assume that the owners of secret compartments used the latter to hide certain precious materials and transmitted knowledge to their families in time. Now, it is hopeful that in one of these cache that gives zest to collecting antique furniture, something more interest than a paid bill might have been forgotten or overlooked.
The pieces with the most secret compartments are desks and secretaries with English and American furnishings. Then follow the chests, and on the chests come sideboards, people, chests. Occculated tables, especially card table sort can be found, where the upper half of the top is supported by a swinging leg as it is folded back. Travel desks and small boxes have secret compartments sometimes, usually as false bases.
As early the French and English cabinet makers began to concentrate their efforts on bringing the furniture to such hidden places is unclear, but I don't think that it began because Italy has had an impact on furniture, either directly or through France or the Netherlands. Secret compartments were appealing to the Italian temper and made both smaller and larger cabinets, secret cabinets and so forth. They date back to the late 16th or 17th century.
Typical of Italian work is one of the polished bones (Illustration VII). A narrow door with classical pilasters is at the middle of the house. There is a small space behind it, removed when gently pushed, and a very narrow rear two tiers of 4 drawers. This style demonstrates the structure used in the interiors of the 18th and early 19th century English and American desks.
American cabinetmakers do not appear to have designed their furniture hidden locations well in advance of Queen Anne, though I have heard stories of these items in the style of William and Mary. Yet hidden locations were more in vogue between around 1720 and the Sheraton years. Naturally, the desk was the best place to do such things. The owner wrote and transacted his business here and could put away his money and documents.
As already stated, the central part of the interior was inspired by this italian design as the most logical position for dissimilar compartments. It could be a small armchair or a group of pigeonholes and small drawers that have or have no front (Fig. II). One to two inches to two on each side is a deeper segment than the pigeonholes and drawers. The machine is pushed out but securely positioned by wooden slots slipping from the top or by some sort of wooden spring which has to be pressed to free the part. This is hidden sidewise. It's the secret to discover. The best way to check the interior with the braille method is to find a small depression. It makes the requisite holding for slots or spring operations.