Britain was engaged in wars throughout the 19th Century – off the top of my head, the Napoleonic, Opium, Sikh, Crimean, Indian Mutiny, Boer and so on. There were three Afghan Wars in the space of 100 years and another three in Burma!
In each, the British and native regiments were led (mostly) by aristocratic and titled officers, many of whom had purchased their commissions. Each carried a huge personal baggage – drawn by mule, horse or camel trains – which were placed in their tents at temporary camps and garrisons.
This so-called ‘campaign’ furniture was once a saleroom staple. Effectively describing any piece manufactured for travel, it is best known for the portable pieces taken on such military campaigns, typically with brass corners and strapping for support, and cleverly designed to fold away.
Although the desk shown today is an Edwardian copy of a Georgian original, it is a good example of a campaign item.
Appearing at Roberts Jones’ sale in Cardiff on March 5, this mahogany ‘campaign’ desk dated from around 1910.
Its plain, hinged top opened to reveal a fitted interior and forward-sliding leather writing surface. The inside also hosted an attractive array of drawers, stationery racks and compartments, and an unusual Goliath desk clock. A frieze drawer separated the upper arrangement from its splayed legs and arched stretchers. It also carried an ivorine label marked ‘Best London Make.’
I show the desk open, but you can imagine it being packed up into a solid unit and carried on the march. Anything to make life easier for the well-to-do military officer or traveller of the 19th Century.
Despite some wear and tear, the desk doubled pre-sale hopes to take £1600.
Picture: Campaign desk, £1600 (Robert Jones Auctions).