It could well be the world’s oldest and most beautifully made Transformer.
And next week, visitors can get an up close look Temple Newsam’s magnificent mechanised reading and writing desk, crafted more than 270 years ago.
The newly-acquired desk, made from mahogany with inlaid and finely engraved brass decoration, was fashioned in around 1740, possibly by Thomas Potter, a rather mysterious London-based master craftsman.
With the push of a button, a complex system of internal springs and weights activates and automatically transforms the desk from a flat tray-top table with a drawer to one suitable for reading or sketching.
The main body of the table separates to reveal five hidden drawers, one of which contains an original glass inkwell.
Thomas Potter is recorded as a cabinet maker in High Holburn in 1737 and was working in partnership with John Kelsey in 1738.
Records also show that Potter and Kelsey supplied furniture to Sir Richard Colt Hoare for Barn Elms House in 1738, indicating that they were able to attract wealthy clients.
Recently acquired by Temple Newsam, the desk will be the focus of the first in a series of sessions at the house entitled Transformers: Furniture in disguise.
Each session will focus on one of the house’s collection of unusual furniture, which also includes the beautiful Channon and Weekes cabinets.
Rachel Conroy, curator at Temple Newsam, said: “We’re very excited to have added this new desk to our collection and for visitors to get a look at how it works.
“As well as being very beautiful, it really is an impressive feat of both engineering and craftsmanship. Watching the desk transform brings home just how intricate and practical the design is- especially when you consider it was made more than 270 years ago.
“Collecting and preserving historic furniture like this helps us to ensure this incredible story of British innovation and creativity is not lost and can be appreciated by future generations.”
The series of talks take place every third Wednesday of the month, starting with Thomas Potter’s writing table on March 15 at 11.30am.
Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries, said: “To think this extraordinary piece of furniture was made more than 270 years ago really does show the level of painstaking ingenuity that must have gone into its design.
“Temple Newsam has a truly world class collection of furniture and we’re very fortunate to have so much history right on our doorstep.”
The reading and writing table was acquired with support from the Art Fund, Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum purchase grant fund and Leeds Art Fund.
Taking part in Transformers: Furniture in disguise is free but usual admission applies.
For more details, visit: http://whatson.leeds.gov.uk/Pages/eventdetails.aspx?eventId=whatson-1808