A Brief History of Secret Drawers

In 1642 a young couple, Robert and Susannah Jones, bought a large used chest. The couple lived with the chest for 20 years until, one day, they decided to move it. They heard a rattling inside and did some investigating, discovering a secret drawer. Out spilled a olive-wood rosary and huge amount of papers with mysterious writing and symbols. At some point their maid used around half of the papers to bake some pies before the couple decided to put the papers back in the chest. Some years later when the great fire of London broke out Susannah, now a widow, had the sense to take the papers with her. It turned out that those papers were John Dee’s account of his conferences with angels.

Secret compartments like this used to be a common feature of furniture up through the Victorian period. I’m guessing today’s paranoid tech CEOs probably have a few secret compartments in their modernist survival bunkers.

A desk, built for King Frederick William II by the Roentgen brothers takes the secret drawer idea to its zenith. This thing has secret drawers within secret drawers within secret drawers, all propelled by a complex mechanical system:

For a more recent expression of the secret drawer trope see this impressive desk by furniture maker Lonnie Bird:

The problem, both in the past and now, is that a decent burglar probably knows where your “hidden” compartments are located.

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  1. Nice videos! You sure come up with a variety of interesting posts (John Dee’s conferences with angels!). My partner is a long-time amateur furniture maker(and Lonnie Bird fan)and admirer of secret compartments built in to furniture. We both enjoyed watching these.

  2. What? Putting grandpa’s Krugerrands in Tupperware labeled “chicken livers” in the freezer ain’t good enough for you no more?

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