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Dating keuffel drafting tools
Here in 2015, a desk is many things: A computing workstation, a charging dock holder, a lunch table, a speaker platform, a drink tray, a phone holder, et cetera.Contrast that with the monofunction of an old-school draftsman's table, which had the sole task of supporting paper that you made marks on with a pencil.One thing a draftsman's table was designed to do, that today's tables are not, was to transform from flat to tilted.
But folks were different heights, so a mechanism for adjustability had to be designed. The Keuffel & Esser Co., founded in 1867, was America's first drafting table manufacturer.
As you can see, this early example of their work is all wood: Inelegant, and would take two men (or one orangutuan) to make the adjustment, but it worked. For a later iteration, the company then jettisoned the wooden teeth and opted for a more streamlined look to the pieces, which were still made from wood: However, you'll notice that in that design, the only way to raise the table is to physically hoist it skyward, then hold it in place while someone tightens down the four locking knobs for the vertical-travel mechanism, two on each side. As the Industrial Revolution ground on, it was inevitable that a K&E table would be designed with cast iron legs.
I'd argue that this is uglier than the wooden legs, but it had a raise-lower mechanism that was undeniably easier to use than the A-frame model's: A rack-and-pinion mechanism. The angle-adjustment mechanism, however, is still a clunky design: Two metal rods slide through bushings and are held in place by a screw clamp.
You can imagine the difficulty of trying to do this on your own.
The user pulled on this propellor-like lever, which as you can see in the photo is spring-assisted, to change the height of the table.
Gone are the rods for the angle adjustment; as with the protractor-like model, this tilts the table from the center, and locks into place by using this cast-iron knob-wheel to clamp the circular surface to the flange attached to the desk.
Here you can see that, sadly, one of the cast-iron knobs has been broken off, we're guessing in transit.
I should point out that I don't have hard dates for any of these tables and am speculating on their order of design, based on the materials used and the mechanisms involved.
And I think that it's important to look at older furniture designs and puzzle out what the designers were after, particularly if you're attempting to design retro pieces that harken back to these.
For example, when we look at the evolution above, we can clearly see that the wooden A-frame design was an improvement over earlier ones in that it provided legroom for seated use.