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Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Thackeray desk is a walking treasure

NEWS reaches me of consternation among staff at the Observer. A rather special piece of furniture, known as the Pendennis table, has gone missing. It is a large oblong leather-topped Victorian table on which - according to a brass plate screwed into the middle of it - William Makepeace Thackeray wrote his novel, Pendennis, in 1850. It came into the possession of the Observer when the Pall Mall Gazette, a sister paper, folded early this century.

Donald Trelford, the present editor, shortly to be replaced following the Guardian's takeover, uses it as his desk at the Marco Polo building, Battersea, the Observer's headquarters. Or did until last week. He told me he had originally rescued it from oblivion before the newspaper moved from its former headquarters at St Andrew's Hill, Blackfriars, to Battersea in January 1988. On Tuesday when staff turned up for work it had gone. A modern substitute was in its place.

This was distressing for the hacks, because the table has followed the Observer for years round its various offices. David Astor, Trelford's illustrious predecessor, used it as a conference table. And when the newspaper decided to start a diary in the 1950s it chose Pendennis as its title and Astor gave the job to Anthony Sampson, the Anatomy of Britain man.

But, then, things always seem to go missing when newspapers, particularly Sunday ones, change ownership. On the day the Sunday Times was bought from Lord Thomson by Rupert Murdoch in January 1981 the fridge of the editor, Harold Evans, disappeared from his office. Its contents included various bottles of alcohol, ice, a pair of smoked trout and several bars of KitKat. Missing too were hundreds of green carpet tiles from another part of the building in Gray's Inn Road, Holborn. The disappearance has never been explained.

There was also an unseemly squabble between the Times and the Observer when the former moved out of its original home in Printing House Square to Holborn in June 1974 and the Observer moved in. The dispute was over a large Henry Moore sundial which stood in the forecourt of Printing House Square. It was sold off and the money was pocketed by the Astor family trust which owned the Observer.

However, there should be no fears for the missing Pendennis table. Mr Trelford told me on Friday that he was putting together a collection of Observer artefacts and 'archive material' so that the Guardian could choose what it wanted when the newspaper's new editor, Jonathan Fenby, takes over, possibly early next month. He said the table was wobbly and damaged and had been sent away for repairs.

I only hope a large oil painting known as 'Ascherson's cat' by the Berlin artist Sara Haffner is among the 'archive material'. It, too, has apparently disappeared. Painted in the 1960s, it belongs to my colleague Neal Ascherson and is of his marmalade tabby on a chair poised to pounce on a copy of one of the first editions of the Observer's colour magazine.

(Photograph omitted)