Tuesday 5 February 2019

Thomas Butler - The Grandfather of Campaign Furniture Makers?

Thomas Butler can perhaps be considered the ‘Grandfather’ of campaign furniture makers. Certainly all of the other cabinet makers who worked in or around Catherine Street in the early 19th century had, at some stage, been linked to him and went on to make very similar pieces to those of Butler.

Butler is recorded as first starting in partnership with Edward Johnson at 146 Strand, which is opposite Catherine Street, sometime before 1787. Johnson had previously taken out insurance at 14 Catherine Street in 1784 and it may be that Butler was in his employment before they became partners with the plan that he would eventually take over the business. This would tie in with Johnson and Butler dissolving their partnership in March 1787, the stock auctioned by Christies and it seems Johnson stopping work as cabinet maker. The move to 146 Strand for a brief period may be explained by a line in the notice of the partnership’s dissolution, which also states the business was formerly of Catherine Street. The notice says all demands on the business can be made to Butler at the Strand until the Catherine Street address is rebuilt. It’s possible that 14 Catherine Street had been damaged by fire or simply that the property was being altered.

After running his own business for a short time, up to 1791, Butler joined in partnership with John Heppel at 14 Catherine Street. When the partnership was dissolved, Heppel moved out and set up in business as a cabinet maker at 55 Oxford Street.

Although he had previously made a variety of furniture with both Johnson and Heppel, Butler now concentrated his business on the manufacture of sofa and chair beds and described his premises, in adverts, as an Upholstery & Bedding Warehouse.
Chair Bed by Thomas Butler
There was a
great interest in metamorphic furniture at the end of the 18th century and a sofa or chair that could be quickly converted to a bed no doubt proved popular. Four poster beds that could be easily set up and taken down were soon added to Butler’s range. By the turn of 1800 he had gone back to also manufacturing other cabinet work and supplied the Prince of Wales with two elegant mahogany Writing Tables in 1802. 
Extended as a bed

It is easy to see how making metamorphic furniture progressed to campaign furniture and the Napoleonic Wars would have further increased the demand. A broadsheet advert of 1806 shows that Butler was producing Portable Chairs, Imperial Dining Tables, Escretoires and both Chair and Sofa Beds. These items were aimed at both the military and the domestic markets with designs also available in the Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Chinese manner. It was also possible for customers to provide their own timber.

Butler made the most of suggesting that he was the originator of a number of the designs of his furniture although this is a very grey area. It was not uncommon at the time for cabinet makers to use the word patent to describe their furniture even if they hadn’t actually taken a patent out. It was a means of elevating the design and suggesting it was protected. Butler is not listed as having taken out any patents of his own and it is known that he used his Catherine Street neighbour Thomas Waldron’s 1785 patent for a bed that could be assembled without the use of screws or nuts and bolts. Morgan & Sanders, who started as Butlers foreman and clerk before they set up in rivalry, also later claimed that they were the originators of some of his designs whilst working for him. It will probably never be known how many of Butler’s designs were original to him, conceived by others in his workshops or taken from other cabinet makers.  

Four Poster Bed dissassembled

Thomas Butler was also a non-conformist minister at Charlton, near Hitchin and perhaps it was this secondary occupation that led him to retire and then return Catherine Street twice. In late 1800, he sold his business to Thomas Oxenham much to the chagrin of Morgan & Sanders, who believed it had been promised to them. They quickly set up as neighbours and competitors to Oxenham at Nos. 16 & 17 Catherine Street. The intense competition between Butler and Morgan & Sanders, led by the latter, was played out in the press over the next 10 years with each issuing adverts attacking the other.

Oxenham, originally a mangle maker in Oxford Street, didn’t last long. In 1802 Butler had taken the business back and continued for another 8 years. In 1804 he took out insurance on properties behind Catherine Street at 4 to 7 Helmet Court and Pegasus Yard, Savoy. This suggests that business was good, and he expanded. In 1810 he retired once more, this time selling the business to Edward Argles. Argles was a Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer from Maidstone, Kent and probably saw the move to London as a good opportunity to grow his business. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for him and he was declared bankrupt in June 1813.

Once more Butler returned and set up again at 13 and 14 Catherine Street. He only lasted a year, perhaps because he had lost too many key employees. His son in law, John Steains, who had been with him since 1793, took the opportunity when Argles moved in, to set up in business with George Pryor and John Mackenzie who had also been employed by Butler. They established themselves at Brydges Street, which ran on north from Catherine Street. In July 1814, Butler retired for the final time and his stock was auctioned over 3 days. Morgan & Sanders later advertised that they had taken over a considerable part of Butler’s premises, as one final jab at their former employer.
A small Imperial Table.

Although Johnson and Waldron were fore runners to Butler in Catherine Street and Morgan & Sanders are perhaps the most recognised name of the two today, Butler’s influence on campaign furniture should not be under estimated. He capitalised on the interest in metamorphic furniture and the demand for campaign furniture. In doing so, he also paved the way for the other businesses to profit from the same markets. We group Butler, Morgan & Sanders, Oxenham, Argles, Steains, Pryor & Mackenzie and John Durham as the Catherine Street makers not just because of their location. They all produced very similar pieces, working to a number of the same designs which were first popularised by Butler. So much so that it can be difficult to determine which of them made one of the recognised designs without a maker’s label.

Recognition is due to Nicholas Brawer and Elizabeth Heyer for their seperate research on Thomas Butler and Morgan & Sanders.

More can be read about the some of the other Catherine Street makers on our website at the below links:

                                                                                                                           By Sean Clarke

Saturday 7 April 2018

A Rare & Unusual Georgian Campaign Table.

A Rare & Unusual Georgian  Campaign Table.

When you first see this late 18th century table you may not think it is "campaign" or that unusual. Maybe the first clue to it not being what it appears would be that the top is made from two pieces of timber.
 Once seeing this you next thought might be " The top is from a card table. That can't be right." You decide to have a closer look and see what its all about.

     So what do we notice from this photo:
        1. The top is hinged but not folding upwards like a card or table but        downwards. Most odd.
        2. The timber to the top and side rails is a dense Cuban mahogany.
        3. Unusually, the legs with their boxwood stringing are made of a lighter possibly Honduras mahogany.                    Can this table be right ?

Lets have a look underneath and see whats going on.

Interesting. We have 8 iron hinged fixings that are connecting the top to the base section. Lets undo these and see what happens.

Undoing the hinge fittings has allowed the top to be removed and further iron fittings allow the legs to be removed from the frieze rails. So we have a table that completely dis-mantles.

So, what can we deduce from this?
     From the style of the square tapered legs with the boxwood stringing this table would date to around 1790. We know that at this period in the second half of 18th century cabinet makers were experimenting with different designs to make furniture that could be dis-mantled to make it portable.
       At this period the campaign furniture would look like its domestic equivalent and would usually be made by cabinet makers rather than makers who specialised in travel furniture. Some of the known  furniture designers  of the time included some portable furniture in their design books but there were not, that we have discovered, that many designs available for their subscribers. 

 For this reason we occasionally come across furniture which we believe were bespoke made for a client and possibly one off  pieces. I believe that to be the case with this table.
      Two last details that should be mentioned are that all the fitting are iron as opposed to brass which is unusual. Possibly, even blacksmith made that leads me to believe that the table is more likely than not made by a provincial cabinet maker. Secondly, why did the maker not put hinges to the top section the other way around to allow the top to close and protect the polished surface as opposed to this way that means it will not close flat as the iron hinges are in the way?

By Simon Clarke.

Saturday 2 September 2017

John Folgham, case and knife case maker.

John Folgham, case and knife case maker.

Whilst, visiting the wonderful National Trust Property Chastleton House ,which is just down the road from the shop, I noticed this fine Georgian Knife box which I hadn't recalled seeing before.

   This box with its serpentine front is much like like many that you will see in many country houses.So what made this box stand out you might ask ?  
     On the wall behind the box is the framed original invoice supplied by the maker John Folgham in 1787.

You can see from this that the box was bought by Arthur Jones Esq. who owned Chastleton at the end of the 18th century. the writing is a little tricky to read but lists the cutlery the box would hold as well as another item which I am trying to decipher. It appears to read " a neat **** Greywood Tea Caddy Varnish" . Interesting , that it seemed to be the fashion to call items "neat" during this period.    Not sure what the addition of 0 16 is for. Delivery ?   
Any ideas ?

Referring to The Dictionary of English Furniture makers,1660-1840 we see this on the maker:

Fascinating stuff. What would this equate to in modern times ? To give and idea of value I believe a housemaid would have been paid about £ 5 per annum in the 1770's.

by Simon Clarke.

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.

Saturday 18 March 2017

Campaign or Military Chests - Beginners Guide Part 1.

To those who have not studied campaign furniture understanding military or campaign chests can appear quite confusing. When was it made? Where was it made ? Is it original ? What timber is it ?
     We often come across military chests and other pieces of campaign furniture online that have descriptions that bear no resemblance to the piece in the photograph at all. Even antique dealers with many years experience fall foul of wanting a piece to be something that it is not or believe it to be much older than it actually is.
      I hope that some of the information provided here may help you make a more informed judgement.

To start off with a few common mis-conceptions:

    If a chest or other piece of furniture has carrying handles it must be campaign. It could be but not always. A lot of Georgian library furniture had wonderful substantial carrying handles but would never have been taken travelling. Can you imagine anyone taking a large astragal glazed bureau book case which has carrying handles to both top and bottom section on the Peninsula Wars ? We have certainly seen the top sections being sold as campaign purely because of the carrying handles. And what's this all about? A set of three Victorian mahogany campaign bookcases, mid-19th century

  19th century two part brass bound campaign chests should have carrying handles. ( The maker must have forgotten with this one so we'd better put some on. )

Chest by Gregory Kane with later added on carrying handles. Swiftly removed after its purchase.
Most mid to late 19th century campaign chest will not have side carrying handles as the chest would come with a couple of painted pine packing cases to transport the two sections. There are exceptions to this rule such as smaller Naval chests or Colonial chests. With experience you can tell if later handles have been added.

This chest splits in two so it must be campaign, right ? I recently came across a chest described as campaign that split in two that clearly was not. The explanation is quite simple and logical if you think about it. A lot of small cottages had narrow winding staircases. The solution to getting a large chest upstairs was what I would call the cottage chest. They tend to be Georgian and the main clue as to why they are not campaign is constructional. A true campaign chest whether it be Georgian or Victorian will be cabinet made with both sections having both top and base boards dovetailed into the sides for strength. The construction of a cottage chest will be different. The base of the top section and the top of the base section will be open with the two section fixed together with tenons or dowels fixed to the sides of the base section. These will slot into mortices in the sides of the top section. The chest below demonstrates this and is not the one I saw mis-labelled.

photo credit: Heather Cook Antiques.

All campaign chests should have flush handles, brass corners and strapwork and have turned feet that should be removable. Not quite.The above description would be what most people think of as a military chest which will date to the middle of the 19th century. The campaign chest evolved through the Georgian period and on into the 19th century. In the Georgian period the main premise for the maker was to make a domestic chest or other piece of campaign furniture easier to transport and stronger to survive the rigors this involved. The look would strongly resemble the domestic equivalent which is why it is not immediately obvious they are campaign. There may be a moulding to the top, swan-neck handles, wooden knobs or bracket feet.

Georgian campaign chest.
Note side handles have incorrect swan neck handles
attached to the back plates.

Most people's conception of a military chest.
This one by Seagrove.
Campaign chests were used by officers in the military fighting battles across the Empire. Certainly, a lot were owned officers who were not prepared to compromise their living standards with the furniture and travel accouterments they took with them on their travels. We have had many examples where we have had the owners details noted on the chest that bear testimony to this. However, a lot of chests and other pieces of campaign furniture belonged to the multitude of other travellers who were either supporting the Empire or travelling to the colonies. It should be remembered that certainly pre-1900 and the Golden Age of the ocean liner, cabins on board ships were unfitted. The solution to this was the cabin fitter who could, at the shortest notice, provide all that a traveller may require on their long voyage ahead.

  I hope that gives you a small insight into what you should be looking at when considering a campaign chest. As with any other type of antique if thinking about buying you are better off dealing with an expert. They know their specialty and you will get a piece that has been researched and correctly dated and described. You will also be paying what something is worth rather than buying something with a dubious description at a price that may not bear any relation to its true value. Just because a dealer is a specialist it doesn't equate that they are the most expensive merely that they know what the price should be as opposed someone guessing a number out of thin air. Prices of antiques will always be subjective with different dealers being able to charge more than others. Look online and see how the prices compare then decide who you feel more comfortable buying from.

By Simon Clarke.

Saturday 18 February 2017

The Cavalry Chest.

Why the Cavalry chest ? Though very likely this term was used prior to this we first came across the name in the Army & Navy Stores Catalogue of 1907.  It's name giving connotations of a superior model.
This teak example below matches the one pictured above in all aspects apart from size being a standard campaign chest size of 39 inches and has the A&N ivorine plaque to the top right drawer.

The listing notes a model that was available with a superstructure with mirror but this is not pictured on the page. We have had examples of this model and below is one that matched the description even down to the size of 3 ft. 9 inches.

One fact that isn't included in the description above and is worth noting is that timber that borders the leather adjustable writing area tends to be a veneer of an exotic timber. We have come across coramandel, rosewood and maple. This may have been an additional extra.

As with most pieces of standard campaign furniture from the mid 19th century onwards different makers made similar models to each other. Whether they called them Cavalry chests we cannot be sure until their trade catalogues come to light.

The following chest which sadly doesn't have a makers name on it is an interesting example that shows some unusual characteristics.

This chest has a number of small differences that set it aside from the A&N CSL model. It has inset brass carrying handles to the sides; the secretaire drawer is the first long drawer as opposed to the second; the writing section has a small campaign handle to lift it and is adjustable on a lectern foot instead of resting on the hinged stationery section and there isn't a secret compartment to the right of the secretaire but 3 inkwell sized divisions. However, perhaps the most important difference is that the fronts of the drawers are veneered in figured walnut, which is something we have not previously seen on this model of campaign chest.

By Simon Clarke.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Maynard & Co. A lesser known Campaign Furniture Maker.


Maynard & Co.

Military and General Outfitters and Agents.
27 , Poultry, Next to Mansion House.

Maynard & Co. are not one of the first names you would think of when considering makers of campaign furniture.  Though in business for almost 80 years , from 1814 to 1893, not many pieces by them have have surfaced. However, they were one of a number of companies who developed a business that could offer every assistance to the traveller to the East from booking their passage and selecting their cabin to supplying their portable furniture

We have come across a couple of chests by the maker both quite different which may back up the theory that they have bought in some of their stock and with the one below having features that are not seen in the other fairly standard types of construction found on chests made by other makers.

Mahogany campaign chest circa 1831.

The above chest has quite distinct handles and has an unusual bolt mechanism for holding the top and bottom in place. 

As time progresses I am sure more will come to light on this interesting company and will be recorded online on our makers file for Maynard & Co.

Simon Clarke.