Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), the third President of the United States (1801 – 09) and a keen advocate of democracy, republicanism and individual rights, had a portable, antique writing box on which he drafted the Declaration of Independence. The significance that is attached to Thomas Jefferson’s antique writing box is hence one that is not to be dismissed.
This antique desk, or ‘writing box’, as he called it, was specially designed by Jefferson himself. Jefferson used to travel frequently by coach, and thought it would be more productive if he could have something to write on. He thus sketched his idea of a portable lap desk, and gave it to Benjamin Randolph, a Philadelphia cabinet maker to realise it.
Thomas Jefferson’s antique writing box, made of mahogany, weighed only 5 lbs, and measured about 9 3/4 inches long by 14 3/8 inches wide by 3 1/4 inches deep. There is a folding board, lined with green baize, attached to the top, and when it is opened, the writing area increased to 19 3/4 inches. Paper, pens, a glass inkwell, and miscellaneous stuff were kept in a drawer located at one end of the writing box.
Thomas Jefferson’s Antique Writing Box and The Declaration of Independence
In July 1776, when the desk was brand new, Jefferson used it to write the Declaration of Independence. According to this article, he used this desk for almost 50 years, and it accompanied him wherever he went. Subsequently, in 1825, a few months before his death, he gave it to his grandson Joseph Coolidge. In case its authenticity was doubted, he even attached an affidavit in his own writing on the desk, under the writing board: “Politics as well as Religion has its superstitions. These, gaining strength with time, may, one day, give imaginary value to this relic, for its association with the birth of the Great Charter of our Independence.”Joseph Coolidge and his family kept the desk for another 50 years, and donated it to the federal government in 1880.
As the United States grew and prospered every year, I am sure the significance of Thomas Jefferson’s antique writing box will increase too. Today, you can purchase replicas of this writing box in places such as Writing Slope, or if you are good with woodwork, you can build one yourself, or ask someone to make it for you, just like what this guy did.
Photos: Thomas Jefferson’s Writing Desk