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Roll-top desks offer storage space, a taste of nostalgia

The roll-top desk is back, its curved tambour cover promising a hidden mini-warehouse of pigeonholes, bookshelves, safe-deposit compartments, and file drawers.

Could our hunger for storage space and our taste for nostalgia find a more suitable object than this catchall with the country look?

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The growing number of home offices has only added to the current revival of this dignified piece of furniture, which once went with our grandfathers' life style like a gold pocket watch.

Richard J. Udouj, president of Riverside Furniture Corporation of Fort Smith, Ark., the largest manufacturer of home desks in the country, says his company's sales of a variety of roll-tops constitute ''a very important part of our business.'' He terms his new collection of Oak Creek desks ''control stations'' because they offer at-home workers, or heads of household, every sophisticated organizational feature they could ever dream of. These oak desks, with turn-of-the-century styling, feature pullout tablets for typewriters and computer terminals, cataloging drawers, file cabinets, electrical plug tapouts, and safe-deposit compartments. Furthermore, they boast pigeonholes and tiny index drawers, and pullout dictation shelves. Their chief role is to organize the paper work, provided there is sufficient human cooperation.

An old-line New England manufacturer, Nichols & Stone in Gardner, Mass., introduced its first revived roll-top desk this spring and will be shipping it in the fall. The new model, in solid ash and ash veneers, is called the Declaration I Roll Top Desk and is authentic in design. It will retail at about

The original roll-tops came along late in the 19th century in both England and America. It was the Americans, however, who made a real workhorse out of the desk, expanding its size and its utilitarian purposes.

National Mt. Airy of Bassett, Va., introduced a roll-top called the ''C.E.O.'' that is a reproduction of those desks used in the early 1900s by such tycoons as J. P. Morgan. This huge 66-inch-wide desk incorporates an electrical outlet, a pivotal light, a telephone jack, one door, and 26 drawers of varying sizes. It even has a hutch or deck that fits over the roll-top of the classic oak desk. It is a marvel of pull-down tambours, secret trays, pullout writing surfaces, pigeonholes, and ornate brass hardware and locks. This desk could retail in the area of $3,500.

If you want to restore your very own genuine antique roll-top desk, they are still extant. According to the last Kovels' Antiques Price List, they range from may look just like the ones you remember in the old railroad stations - free of all modern ''improvements.''

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