Neat, nifty and steeped in history, good-quality campaign furniture offers a window to a time when travel was both permitted and commonplace.
Christopher Clarke Antiques’ online exhibition The Salute features more than 80 items of 18th, 19th and 20th century campaign furniture and travel items from trunks and tables to telescopes and tent pole hooks.
These objects were designed to be portable. Many feature hidden hinges so that the pieces could be folded down and dismantled.
One of the most striking examples in the show is a two-part Regency bookcase, measuring 6ft (1.76m) high when fully assembled. The mahogany and pine piece features hinges down the middle rather than the outside, so that the two sections can each be folded into a box for travel.
“Typically, campaign bookcases were made to sit on a chest or the floor. Full-size cases like this don’t come along very often,” dealer Sean Clarke tells ATG. “The quality is fantastic.”
A physical exhibition is off the cards due to coronavirus, but Clarke, who has a large online and overseas buyer base, remains optimistic.
So far he observes that clients have been understanding about the implication of restrictions, such as the fact that shipping is currently suspended.
“A lot of customers want you to survive as a business and there have been messages of support,” he says, “and we’ve seen the practical side of that support since buyers haven’t been chipping off on the prices.”
He does have one worry: some of the physical qualities of antiques are apt to be lost when they are seen in pictures alone. That might go double for campaign furniture where part of the delight is seeing the objects unfolded or packed away. The solution for Clarke – as for so many dealers currently – is in technology.
“The joy of antiques is talking to people in front of the piece, so I’ve been doing more videos and putting them up on YouTube,” he says. “They’re going up on our site when the exhibition goes live too and will give people a better feeling of the size.”
Other highlights include a Sorrento ware table which folds down to make it easy for Grand Tourists to carry home, a 7ft 5in (2.26m) long mahogany serving table and a selection of travel inkwells featuring a variety of spring-operated lids.
Chests are among the most common pieces of campaign furniture. Several feature in the show including a secretaire chest, c.1865, which Clarke confidently attributes to Gregory Kane, a well-known Dublin maker.
“It bears all his tell-tale signs and is a really nice, good-quality campaign chest,” Clarke says, “and it has a secret drawer. Who doesn’t love one of those?”