Remove all drawers, partitions and moveable pieces to check for possible identifying labels.

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Like wooden pegs instead of screws, hand-cut dovetail joints on the sides of drawers indicate older, prefactory assembly methods.

Hand-cut dovetails were often used before the 1860s, when factory-cut methods became widely available and economical. Some slats are merely wired together, while others are glued to a canvas or linen backing.

A desk made from cherry after 1900, for example, would have been a special order or the work of a local craftsman.

You may want to seek advice from an expert carpenter or cabinet-maker to identify the wood, especially if it has been stained or varnished to modify the color.

Take photographs and make simple rubbings of intricate and distinctive details such as embossed metal or shallow-carved wood.

For an unusual lock plate, for example, include a common object such as a pencil, a short ruler or a dollar bill in the photograph to clarify the exact size.Making a rubbing as well as a photo may highlight detail hard to see even in good light. Your desk may show the proud work of a local locksmith or a style of lock plate or key popular during a particular period.Look closely at how drawers on your desk are assembled.Eighteenth-century desks often featured a pull-down C-curved top fashioned from a single piece of wood.This curved top formed the basis for the slatted C-curved tambour of the early 19th century and eventually the S-curve of mid- to late 19th- and 20th-century desks.Note whether the top and bottom sections of your desk are held together by screws or wooden pegs.