The part near the student was hinged and our books went inside; another version just had a shelf underneath the writing surface. For writing class, we would go to the closet, get our little bottle of ink and a pen, which we would use very carefully to avoid getting the indelible ink on our clothes. This was no small trick, as the rubber stoppers would often commit suicide by leaping from the desktop to the floor, for which we were punished as accessories before the fact, since the India ink would stain the old wooden floors.
Suffice it to say that few of us became calligraphers, but all of us were thrilled at the advent of the ballpoint pen somewhere around fifth grade.
When the old 1920s Longden School was demolished in the early 70s, some of the old desks were still on site. One of them escaped going to the dump by accidentally falling into the trunk of a close relative's car and has been awaiting restoration in my garage ever since. It has cast iron legs that support one desk and the attached chair that originally accommodated the child nearer the teacher. The front-most position had no forward seat. Needs rust removal and some loving treatment of hinges and woodwork. At 80 I've given up on being that restorer. Any volunteers? It would make a great donation to the history museum.
PS: It will occur to the most observant readers that left-handed children had a high propensity for dragging their sleeves through their work while dipping their pens in the inkwell, which of course were placed at right as God intended.