If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Unlocking an 18th-century French mechanical table

Discover how an affluent lady of 18th-century France may have used this ornate mechanical table for leisure and work. With a turn of a key, this table transforms into a desk with compartments. Learn about how it operates and its many features. Created by Getty Museum.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

Voiceover: In 18th century France, an affluent lady might spend hours at a fashionable table, engaged in leisure or work. When Jean-François Oeben designed this table, he kept the owner's privacy in mind. He devised hidden mechanisms to open it into a desk with the turn of a key. (table banging open) (table closing) (key turning) (drawer opening) After years, the colors of the marquetry surface have altered, but their original appearance was quite brilliant. Patterns of wood veneer camouflaged compartments. (drawer opening and closing) The design of this table offers clues about how it was once used. (drawer sliding open) Letters could be safeguarded in a fragrant, juniper wood drawer. (drawer sliding closed) Supplies could be stored in lidded inner compartments. The owner could draft correspondence on a silk covered surface. The writing service could be transformed into a bookrest. Whether the desk was open or closed, items were accessible from a side drawer. (key jiggling) (drawer opening) (drawer closing) (table closing) The table was designed to be portable and could be moved aside, until ready for use again.