A davenport, as a desk, is a small, carved, piece of furniture which often has a hinged lid opening out into a writing surface, and usually has drawers below the writing surface. Some sources say the first one was made by a William Davenport, others that the style was first commissioned by a Captain Davenport. The Oxford English Dictionary records uses of this term between 1845 and 1883, and all the Davenport desks I can find in Google are antiques or reproductions.

However, it confused me greatly to come across this term used for a desk in a history of England, because "davenport" is a completely different kind of furniture in my family, a sofa. The OED first records this usage in 1897 and only in North America, while the use of the name for a desk seems to have been predominantly British. Bartleby.com says that "davenport" is regional, without specifying what region it's from. A 1992 survey taken near the U.S.-Canadian border found that only those over 70 used "davenport" -- I guess that's where I might have acquired the term, from my Wisconsin-born grandmother. Davenport is the name of a city in Iowa, and one page refers to it as the "home of the davenport sofa"; I can find no other reference to that origin but Iowa definitely seems to be within the region that used the word.

Davenport was also the name of a china manufacturer in Staffordshire, England, from 1793 to 1882; their work was very well known at the time and is still sought after by antique china collectors.


Dav"en*port (?), n. [From the name of the original maker. Encyc. Dict.]

A kind of small writing table, generally somewhat ornamental, and forming a piece of furniture for the parlor or boudoir.

A much battered davenport in one of the windows, at which sat a lady writing. A. B. Edwards.


© Webster 1913.

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