Saturday, 1 April 2017

Campaign or Military Chests - Beginners Guide Part 2.

Campaign or Military  Chests - Beginners Guide Part 2.

Where was it made ?

This can sometimes be a little tricky to the un-trained eye as a lot of campaign chests can at first glance all look the same. On closer inspection, following a few guidelines you should be able get a reasonable idea where a campaign chest was made.

We have had military chests made in England, Ireland, Scotland, Malta, Australia, China, India and some from places in the East and the colonies that we have not as yet been able to pinpoint.

Secretaire Campaign Chest by W. Day & Son.

China Trade Secretaire Chest

So what should you look for to determine the place of origin of a campaign chest ? The following indicators will give you some clues though it should be stressed that these are not hard and fast rules and there will be cases where single indicators will not give a definitive answer and a combination of these will be needed to provide an answer.

     When evaluating a campaign chest consider the following and it should be possible to work out where a campaign chest was made. Maker's name, timber, construction techniques, and hardware.

      If on inspecting your campaign chest you see a maker's name there will be a good chance you will be able to find out where they were based. If their details are on a label or stencil there is also likey to be their address. So look out for paper labels, ivory, ivorine or brass plaques, stencils or stamps. If only a name, a little research should provide more information on where a company were based. You will still need to follow the other indicators as its is possible a maker may have made chests at home and abroad. Be also aware that sometimes maker's marks can be fraudulent and not original to the piece.

Label on Seagrove Chest

Seagrove Chest

Occasionally, you may come across a British made chest that doesn't have a maker's name but on closer examination you may see pencil inscriptions. These are likely to be on the secondary timbers on the carcase or drawer bases or backs and can include cabinet maker's name, date, or merely a number given to a drawer or if it is for the top right or left side.

Pencil inscription on A&N CSL teak chest shown below.
The timber which a chest is made from can be a great indicator as to where a chest was made though it should be remembered that in most British cabinet making a lot of the primary timber used was imported. A lot of British chests will have been made from mahogany, teak and camphorwood . Timbers that were imported. Some campaign chests were made from blonde oak or walnut and that would be a fairly strong indicator to the chest being made in Britain as it would be highly unlikely that these timbers would be used abroad. To get a more accurate pointer to origin rather than looking at the primary timber used it is the secondary timbers used for back boards and drawer linings that give a far stronger provenance. As a general rule these will be native timbers to the place of construction. In British chests the use of oak, ash and deal were commonly used for secondary timbers in drawer construction though on some you will find mahogany also used. A good knowledge of different types of timber is obviously essential here.

Teak A&N CSL Cavalry chest.

Teak Anglo-Indian Chest.

In the knowledge of the different construction techniques used in British cabinet work and those used abroad we find some strong indicators as to where a chest was made. This, like the knowledge of timbers, can take a while to fully understand. 18th and 19th century British cabinet work is second to none in quality so generally easily recognisable.  For the novice a good starting point will be to inspect the dovetail joints on the drawer construction. A finely cut dovetail joint is easily distinguishable from a larger and sometimes far cruder colonial equivalent. Be aware though that by the end of the 19th century some British cabinet makers had embraced modern technology and had started to use machine cut dovetail joints that like the colonial equivalent will be larger and cruder. For the more experienced collector closer inspection of campaign chests construction will show a marked difference in those made in Britain and the colonies.

Fine British Dovetail Joints.

Machine cut Dovetail Joints.

A final great indicator to the whereabouts of where a chest may have been made is the metal hardware used by the maker on their chests. Though there are differences, both in style and manufacture in British made handles, corner pieces and brass strap-work and those made in the colonies this can be a difficult one to use as an indicator of construction origin. Apart from the lower quality sheet brass strap-work and lower grade skeletal handles found on some Anglo-Indian chests, differentiating between the British made and higher quality colonial brass work can be quite tricky. However locks can sometimes be an easier one to examine. A lot of British locks will provide a few clues that show they are British. There may be the maker's name which research can provide a whole host of information. They may have evidence of the reigning monarch with either a GR or VR indicating Georgian or Victorian period. You may also see "patent" or "4 lever" which are good signs they are British.   A note of caution though: it was quite common for British hardware to be exported to the colonies to be used in furniture made in that country.  Also, it is not unusual for locks to get replaced on chests. For this reason using just one of the above indicators should not be relied on to show where a campaign chest was made. However, using a combination of all of the above may help even the novice to get some idea of country of origin.

Original Lock on a Richard Millard Chest.

Main Lock to Secretaire drawer on the same chest.

         The study of origin of colonial chests is an area that still requires much research. Chinese Export chests may be easily distinguishable but it should be remembered that Chinese cabinet makers were working not only in China but right the way across to the west of Canton and into India. It can be possible to differentiate chests made by Chinese cabinet makers working in India through their quality, and the construction techniques used but the waters can get somewhat muddied. It is hoped in the future with more information coming to light that this should become easier and we will know which chests made in India were by local cabinet makers, Chinese cabinet makers or those made by English cabinet makers who had set up workshops in the country.

      Hopefully this will give you some help in tackling this somewhat complex issue and should enable you to at least determine if a chest is British made. As mentioned, moving on to the colonies may take a little more time and experience. You may also be able to use the above in considering other types of campaign furniture as most will be equally relevant to chairs, tables etc.

By Simon Clarke.