The desk was formerly in the collection of Sir John and Lady Heathcoat Amory, Knightshayes Court, Tiverton, Devon, a masterpiece of High Victorian architecture designed by William Burges in 1869.
A related Carlton House desk with the same pattern of handles was sold anonymously, Christie's New York, 16 April 1994, lot 128 ($57,500) and another was sold anonymously, Christie's, New York, 9 October 1993, lot 88 ($88,300).
THE HISTORY OF THE CARLTON HOUSE DESK
The first published design of a desk of this type was one illustrated in A. Hepplewhite & Co. The Cabinet Maker's London Book of Prices, 2nd ed., 1793, pl. 21.
The best known form of 'Carlton House' desk is that usually executed in mahogany, with a stepped superstructure of two or three tiers and curved back. This form of desk became associated with Carlton House, the residence of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, after Rudolph Ackermann had illustrated a writing-table of this design in 1814, claiming that it was called a Carlton House desk 'from having been first made for the august personage whose correct taste has so classically embellished that beautiful palace' (see H. Roberts, 'The First Carlton House Table?', Furniture History, XXXI, 1995, pp. 124-128). The recent discovery of a bill among the Prince of Wales's accounts in the Royal Archive revealed that 'a large Elegant Sattin wood Writing Table containing 15 Drawers and 2 Cupboards' and with '16 Elegant Silver handles with Coronets' was supplied by John Kerr, a recipient of several orders for the Prince of Wales, in 1790, a full two years before the earliest known published design for a table of this form (ibid. p. 127). A desk conforming precisely to this description was recently with Mallett with a traditional provenance that the table had been presented to Captain John Willett Payne, acting Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales until 1796. On receiving the news of his dismissal, Captain Payne refused any pension or emolument, and a presentation of a table of this type would indeed seem plausible. It is also interesting to note that the Carlton House inventories of 1793 also record that there was a 'A large writing Table' in the library of Captain Payne's apartment at Carlton House (Carlton House Inventories, vol. A (Coutts), 1793, f. 42).