An Interesting 1920s Graffitied Oak School Desk Lid

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Origin: English
Period: Early 20thC
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1915
Height: 16”
Width: 29”
Depth: 1”

Dating from the early twentieth century, the solid oak school desk lid, being hand carved to both sides with various names and dates, portraits and shapes, from 1917 to 1943, surviving in original condition.

The fact this piece has survived in nigh on original condition is very pleasing and overall it remains a hugely attractive piece in its entirety with a good patina to the oak and no losses to speak of. It could be hung, lent on a shelf or even used as a drinks tray.

For many years every boy in the school would have sat behind a desk like this, with desk lids the primary graffitied objects in the school. The graffiti on this desk lid is carved with a tool fit for the purpose, probably a wood chisel which leaves a characteristic wedge-shaped groove in the hard oak.
This is a panel full of memories; and with the laurel wreath, it bears a poignant war time message too.

A poem, published in The Radleian in 1890, describes how to spend the time between 5.30 and 6.30pm ‘almost the only hour many fellows get to themselves all day:’


I scream, I hoot, I whistle,
In gossip I rejoice;
I talk the last school scandal,
I love my own sweet voice.
I cut the desks and hack them,
I feel the thirst for fame;
I carve in two-inch letters
My valuable name.

These are ownership marks, or memorial inscriptions for public consumption; they are not about rebellion, moreover the relationship between schoolboy and classroom, and between schoolboy and teacher…. the temporary and the permanent; anonymity and making your mark.

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