Brought Antique School Desk Back to Life

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A reader brought an antique school desk back to life.
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Detailed scrollwork cast in iron was common for antique school desks.

I recently restored an old desk from the country grade school I attended from 1949 to 1957. The Litchfield Grade School in Litchfield Township, Pennsylvania, was built in 1926, and I can still recall the smell of the oiled wood floors and the boys’ Brylcreem-slicked hair. I can also remember our teacher, Miss Horton, drilling reading, writing and arithmetic into our brains as she patrolled the desk rows.

Those old desks had iron legs, a fold-down seat, a seatback, and a desktop mounted behind the seatback. We students used the desktop of the desk in front of us. In a way, they were backward desks. They were manufactured by A.H. Andrews and Co. in Chicago, and were called “NoNoise” desks. However, the seats clunked when let down.

When a new school was built in 2008, I acquired one of the desks. I knew my husband and I could fix the chair’s broken back, but the rusted, grime-caked legs required more work than I wanted to tackle at the time, so for six years, the disassembled desk sat untouched. All the while, its decorative legs, which consisted of entwined hearts cast in iron, kept calling me, reminding me of Valentine’s Day, when we fashioned Valentines to give each other and Miss Horton. I kept envisioning the filigree ironwork restored to shiny black.

So, last year, I finally restored the vintage desk. My husband helped me glue the broken seatback and clamp it into the jig he built to stabilize it. I wore out two grinding stones, a dental scraper, more sand-paper and steel wool than I can count – and my fingers – while working on the legs, but it was worth it.

The finished desk is now a side table in my office, and every time I look at it, it evokes the second-grader me sitting at it happily making Valentines – and studying, too, of course.

Newark, Delaware