What Is Campaign Furniture?

Amongst new stock this week is this lovely 19th century mahogany chest of drawers. Dating from about 1825, it is a particularly fine example of campaign furniture, designed to be packed and carried on the march during military campaigns. The officers of the British army who bought and commissioned campaign furniture came from the upper classes and were used to a certain standard of living. It was unthinkable to live otherwise whilst “under canvas,” as the expression went.

The items had to be relatively easy to pack up and transport. “The history of campaign furniture is the social history of the British officer class,” says Nicholas Brawer, an independent curator, in his book British Campaign Furniture: Elegance Under Canvas. “Mobility was much less a concern than keeping up appearances.”

Just as Savile Row tailors made the officers’ uniforms, England’s leading furniture makers produced campaign furniture that was fashionable and of the highest quality. Firms like Chippendale and Hepplewhite were early manufacturers of the furniture. At first, woods such as walnut and mahogany were utilized. As the empire expanded, more exotic woods such as camphor and teak found their place in campaign furniture. Design was both functional and elegant, with brass edges protecting vulnerable corners and recessed handles that lent the furniture a neat, almost nautical appearance.

This piece is slightly unusual in that it doesn’t come into two halves. It has lovely quality recessed handles, and little brass bound peg holes in the top where a wooden gallery could have been attached to stop items sliding off. The drawers are all oak lined, which was a sign of quality – cheaper pieces would be pine lined.
The elegant turned feet are again typical – on some pieces they were attached by screw
thread, so that they could be removed for transportation. The proportions are particularly
elegant and the piece has a lovely wax patina.
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