Visiting the Wellspring of Campaign Furniture
This week I’m in England doing research for my next book, “Campaign Furniture,” and spent today geeking out with Sean and Simon Clarke of Christopher Clarke Antiques – the world’s leading dealer of campaign antiquities.
The Clarke brothers have handled thousands of pieces of campaign furniture built during two centuries of the peak of the British Empire. Even more important, Sean and Simon have been compiling a digital and printed archive of these pieces to fill in the gaping holes of missing knowledge on this enduring furniture style (yes, they are working on a grand opus of a book, but it will take some time).
In the meantime, Sean and Simon were happy to share their thoughts, findings and theories on the style – things that I’ve not seen written down or even discussed by the American dealers I’ve talked to.
Though I took pages and pages of notes for my book, here are a few details (and don’t miss the gallery of photos at the bottom of the page).
1. Evolution from the Georgian and Chinese: Sean Clarke makes the case that the unadorned campaign chests we know had evolved from two main sources: Georgian furniture (minus some mouldings) and a form of traveling furniture used by Chinese government officials.
Equally tantalizing is how campaign furniture went on to influence 20th-century makers, especially the Scandinavian designers, making it an important link between the 18th and 20th centuries.
2. Notes on Brasses. Despite what I see in the shops of U.S. dealers, the Clarkes have found that few campaign chests have lifts on the ends of the chests. Some of these lifts have been added by dealers later on. Note: My last two chests have had these lifts. Oops.
3. Joinery. We disassembled one very typical campaign chest to look inside for evidence of construction techniques. Interesting things I saw: Overcuts for the blind dovetails that joined the chest’s top and ends. The dust panels were not secured in a full web frame (the back stile was absent. The secretary drawer was secured with a Quaker-style spring lock.
I could go on and on, but I’d soon have a chapter of a book.
If you are fan of campaign furniture, bookmark the shop’s web site, Christopher Clarke Antiques, as it is updated regularly with very nice descriptions and photographs of the pieces they offer.
— Christopher Schwarz
I’ve written two articles for Popular Woodworking Magazine about campaign furniture. One is a short introduction to the style, with an emphasis on the chests, which was published in the August 2012 issue. The other story, on Roorkhee chairs, was published in the October 2012 issue.