Roscoe Pound and the circular desk

The great man, his books and his desk.

The great man, his books and his desk.

Roscoe Pound was a polymath. Because of his varied interest, he kept stacks of books out, ready for further consultation at a glance.

Because standard desks were inefficient for his needs, Pound commissioned the creation of a unique desk. It is a complete circle and the great man would stand (or maybe even sit) in the middle turning and turning and turning as his examined his array of source materials.

My new friend, Tyler Keyser promised to send me photos of the desk and related materials that may still be found at Harvard.  Tyler is as good as his word, and I happily share some of them now.

The desk as it exists today.

The desk as it exists today.

Thanks Tyler.

RGK

9 responses

  1. My dad does not like standard desks. Recently, he moved to an office downstairs. The desk that was in there did not last long. Now, he has a large round wooden table (built by his brother). It can easily seat 6 and is covered with paperwork. Dad just migrates case-to-case from chair-to-chair. I’ll show him the photo.

    How did he get in the desk? Over the rail like a hockey line change or crawl in underneath?

  2. When I was at HLS, every 1L section had a “meet the dean” dinner in that room and they used Pound’s desk for the bar. It’s very efficient for that purpose.

  3. Peter H.,

    That is really funny, but Roscoe was ahead of his time. However, he failed to take advantage of the comedic potential. No, wait, nothing is funnier than trying to teach kids to be lawyers. It is a virtual necessity that you spin in circles to keep your sanity.

    All the best.

    RGK

  4. JMD,

    Thanks for telling me about the bar. The mature study of legal realism, Roscoe’s greatest contribution, must always end with booze.

    All the best.

    RGK

  5. Jill,

    I think part of the circle desk was hinged to open out, sorta like a curved door, and then swing back shut when his Roscoeness had entered. But I really don’t know.

    All the best.

    RGK

  6. Pingback: Roscoe and Richard and Circles and Ovals « Hercules and the umpire.

  7. I, too, wondered how Dean Pound got into the center. Blowing up the lower photograph, there’s a seam in the top visible on the far side of the opening in the base visible on the left. Fainter, there appears to be another on the near edge of the opening. I’m speculating, but I suspect that he would draw that portion of the desk out of the circle, go in and then pull it back. A bit cumbersome, but lots of space.

    I was in Paul Fruend’s office once or twice. His desk (as I recall, a conventional one, although I didn’t really notice the desk itself) was piled high with books and papers. When I was there, he had a semi-cleared space in the shape of an amphitheater so that he could actually put a piece of paper or a book on the desk surface.

    When I was chasing citations for Prof. Louis Loss’ supplement to his treatise on securities regulation (my work became instantly obsolete when he brought out a second edition), his secretary told me that one of my predecessors had gone to Prof. Freund with a constitutional question. The professor (who was a very kindly though reserved man) listened and then looked off into space. After a while, the student concluded that he must not have heard, so he repeated the question. More silence. The student started a third time, but Prof. Freund said, “No, I’ve got it.” Further silence. Finally, Prof. Freund said, “No, no precedent.” All we could conclude is that he’d gone through each volume of the US Reports in his mind.

  8. Jon,

    Thanks for the forensic work on the desk!

    But, even more, thanks for the fascinating story about Professor Freund. Pound, too, was said to have a photographic memory even down to the page and paragraph of the volume. See here. Beautiful minds!

    All the best.

    RGK

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