Bearing the inscriptions of the sixth President of the United States, this travelling box or desk is an important testament to the literary pursuits of John Quincy Adams (1767-1848). Though omitting his middle name or initial, the fluid signature closely resembles the many surviving examples of the younger statesman and contrasts with the more rigid style of his father, John Adams (1735-1826). Biographical details of Adams's life support his ownership. In 1794, he was appointed U.S. Minister to Holland and besides an extended stay in London, he lived in The Hague until 1797. The desk's inscriptions indicate it was purchased in Rotterdam in April, 1796. In the same month, Adams proposed to his wife, Louisa Johnson, in London and after receiving orders to return to Holland, he sought "the first available boat to Rotterdam" (Paul C. Nagel, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (New York, 1997), pp. 96-97).
An avid writer, Adams undoubtedly made extensive use of his portable desk. While in Europe, he wrote extensively to his family in America, began his well-known diaries and pursued interests such as translating classical literature (Nagel, pp. 88-98). Such desks were the prized possessions of several prominent Americans who spent much of their time abroad. A similar desk was among several owned by Thomas Jefferson while serving as Minister in London and Paris (Conger, Treasures of State (New York, 1991), pp. 182-183).