During the Middle Ages it was called the scholar's box. In the 17th century, it was used to store small articles of value, such as Bibles and jewelry. Later, the box was made with a slanted lid to make it more suitable as a writing surface, and compartments were added inside to store quill pens, sealing wax and paper. Eventually, stands were made for it, and later they were permanently attached. Eventually, the scholar's box became today's desk, grown much larger to accommodate the demands of modern paperwork.

Today we call this box a lap desk. You can hold it on your lap -- or in bed, or while riding in a car -- but it's also fitted with four cork circles on the bottom corners to prevent scratching furniture. Use it when you write letters, address cards or make entries into a journal. Store stationery, bills, tax papers, art supplies or even collections. Made in Virginia, it's practical and pretty as well, in solid oak with a polished finish that allows the grain to show, and fitted with brass hinges. Size: 11 1/2 by 13 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches.

Lap desk. $35. Collector's Cabinet. 1023 Connecticut Ave. NW. 785-4480.