8. Charles Dickens’s desk and chair

Charles Dickens's desk, writing slope, lamp, desk calendar, and chair in the Polonsky Exhibition. Photo by Robert Kato.
Charles Dickens’s desk, writing slope, lamp, desk calendar, and chair. Photo by Robert Kato.

Today, Charles Dickens is regarded as one of the most influential 19th century British writers for his classic novels A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. As an ode to Dickens’ literary genius, the Polonsky Exhibition will display one of the desks, writing slopes, lamps, desk calendars, and chairs used by him throughout his lifetime. Beautifully designed with mahogany wood and leather, Dickens’s desk once resided at Gad’s Hill Place, the author’s primary residence during the last decade of his life. Upon careful examination of the desk, a calendar flipped to June 9th can be seen standing upon it — with this marking the day when Dickens passed. Along with the desk and calendar, Dickens writing slope — which he used to craft more than 15,000 letters — and lamp were also located in Gad’s Hill Place.

Made of wood and cane with metal casters, Dickens’ chair was first located in his office at Households Words, the weekly magazine he served as an editor for in the 1850s, before being moved to his home. It is suspected that Dickens most likely drafted part of his novel Hard Times while seated in the chair. However, there is one element of the chair that is not original, with this being the canning along the seat. On October 11, 1940, Dickens’ desk and chair were featured in the formal dedication of the NYPL’s Berg Collection and new reading room. While attending the event, then New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia chose to sit in the chair, desiring to feel what it would be like to be Dickens. Unfortunately, worn down from old age, the chair was unable to support the mayor’s weight and he broke right through its canning.