A rolltop desk is a desk with a sliding roll-top that can be closed upon the working area and locked when the desk is not in use. The roll-top hatch of the desk can be rolled up and down. The hatch is made of narrow slats of wood and glued to a flexible material such as strong cloth or leather, with the slates of wood running along slides or grooves fitted into the upper edges of the desk.
Rolltop desks were very popular in the 19th century, and were favored because they were highly functional desks. These desks were high in demand because they had a variety of customized cubbyholes, drawers, and shelves within easy reach -- and one could roll down the top and lock up important papers and documents when they were not using the desk. People found them to be a great use for working and secure, and the large amount of compartments was a good way to store things. Some roll top desks even came with hidden compartments were special items could be stored out of sight.
The rolltop desk design evolved from three different types of desks. The Carleton house desk, the cylinder desk, and the tambour desk designs were all combined to make the roll top desk.
Rolltop desks were highly popular in the nineteenth century. They were first introduced to England from France in the late eighteenth century, and by the nineteenth century, the roll top desk was produced in mass quantities, and had become a common place item in many work offices, and in homes all the way into the twentieth century. The rolltop desk could easily be mass produced because the wooden slats on the roll-top could be made quickly and easily.
As the twentieth century wore on, the use of rolltop desks decreased because more offices had increased amounts of paperwork and documents, and the storage in the small compartments and drawers of the roll top desk were limited. People began to purchase larger steel desks to meet their workspace needs. In addition, when computers became more popular and commonly used in offices and homes, the demand for rolltop desks drastically declined because of the lack of space. (There is little space to cram a computer tower underneath the desk, and monitor and keyboard on top of a roll top desk with all the nooks and crannies on it).
There are some roll top desks that have been cleverly converted to accommodate computers, however this conversion still makes for a very cramped workspace, and people greatly prefer a much larger work area because of more room and convenience for storage, making roll top desks more of an item antique collectors seek today. Well-made antique roll top desks, are very valuable, and can go for several thousands of dollars.
Nowadays, rolltop desks make a great antique for collectors. People who just want to strictly do paperwork as well can still utilize them. With computers taking up much space on desks, people are opting for a more practical and roomier workspace, choosing bigger desks with more space to place their documents, and computers. The rolltop desk serves as a nostalgic, popular, and classic piece of our history that was once highly favored, and much desired.