Here’s something you won’t find in Craigslist’s classifieds…
The writing desk at which Bram Stoker created the bloodcurdling modern myth of Dracula will soon be up for auction.
Looking at the ornate desk today, which seems so fitting as the gothic setting for the creation of perhaps the most chilling book in English literature, it’s hard to believe it was salvaged from near ruin not very long ago. Yes, this artifact, like all good curiosities, has its very own story…
After Stoker completed Dracula in 1897, he gifted the writing table to his good friend JSR Phillips, editor of the Yorkshire Post. According to an article in that same newspaper, the desk was later passed down at Phillips’ death to his son ER Phillips. Unfortunately, the younger Phillips’ wife so disliked the relic that she banished it from the house to rot in the garden for years.
It was the Phillips’ son Guy, grandson of JSR, who saved the desk from complete ruin by taking it with him to London. But though he knew the history of the Dracula desk, Guy then left it behind in that London apartment when he moved away. Its next owners, the Brodericks, had no knowledge of its famous origins until they received a note from Guy Phillips later, explaining its history and hinting at its dark powers.
“I loathed the Dracula desk. But it is a fact that after leaving it behind, I and my family suffered misfortune after misfortune. I had two coronaries and my wife died suddenly of a stroke.”
Even after receiving the note, the Brodericks almost relegated the desk to destruction, casting it off to their neighbors the Yulls. At this point, the desk was in such bad shape that Mrs. Yull very nearly cast it off to a bonfire. It was only saved by her husband, who insisted it be put in his study and used as his computer desk. Interestingly, it was at the Dracula desk that Yull wrote his first book, a novel about Nazi fascination with the occult.
Eventually, the antique made its way into caring hands. As of today the desk has been restored to more than its original glory by master furniture artist Mark Brazier-Jones, whose restorations can be found at none other than The Louvre and The Victoria & Albert Museum. He explains his reimagining of the Dracula desk below.
Even as a new desk, in its day, this was a modest item of furniture, a place for a man to work, and yet possessing a noble honesty. I wanted to keep the desk complete and intact, to save all its scars and broken varnish, this history alive with its gnarled textures…I decided to attach, via callipers and clasps the necessaries to regain functionality. To this I have also embroidered imagery appropriate to the great man’s inspirations and imaginings. I visualize Stoker sat pen to paper contemplating a moonlit rose garden, breathless milk white cleavage and blood soaked lace. All the fixtures and fittings I have created are in bronze and burnished steel. He has also leather lined two secret compartments I have devised (the position of which will only be revealed to the final owner of the desk)…
The face panel of each drawer is acid etched through to copper and nickel layers. The effect is to subtly represent a misty tableau of Whitby Abbey by moonlight, surrounded by gravestones and bats. Over these drawer fronts are five bronze handles, each one different. On the lower left, a bat, to the lower right, a savage hound (in Stoker’s book Dracula arrived in Whitby as a giant dog). The three upper drawers consist of scrolling rose thorns and buds. The interiors are lined in deep buttoned blood red velvet. The baroque rose motif is used again where they seem to crawl up and across the table top frame giving the feeling time has stopped like an overgrown grave.
So, gone is the humble and battered desk of Stoker’s time, replaced by an ornate piece of art that certainly lives up to the gothic nature of its history. Hopefully some of the desk’s mysterious powers remain intact beneath all those coats of varnish, least of which is its uncanny ability to escape bonfires and garbage heaps.
The Dracula desk can be yours, courtesy of the Profiles in History Hollywood Auction for a mere $60,000 to $80,000. Look for it on sale between December 15th-16th.
Happy Halloween eNoters!