Designed to give army officers some creature comforts while on tour, campaign furniture has become highly collectable.


If you've ever slept on a camp bed, used a fold-away table for a party, or taken a portable chair on a picnic, then you have experienced the practicalities and perks of modern-day campaign furniture. Believe it or not, the collapsible, mobile furniture we take for granted today is no recent invention.

Why do you think the 'camp' bed is referred to as such? Simple: because it was designed to be quickly and easily assembled to be ready for use in camp by soldiers on campaign, way back in the 1800s.

Campaign furniture eased the life of many a soldier, as these specially- designed beds, chests and tables were easier to assemble and transport from camp to camp than the everyday bulky furniture used in the home.

Although travellers, civil servants,colonial adventurers and emigrants all took advantage of the adaptable design of campaign furniture, it was military and naval officers who created the greatest demand.

Field commanders fighting in Cape Colony, South Africa, during the 1830s, for example, would often take entire drawing-room suites with them on campaign. Such furniture could be put together and disassembled without the use of nails or any tools.

Home comforts

Campaign furniture may have been chiefly designed for soldiers on the move, but don't expect basic pieces of simple design as a result.

On the contrary, early pieces of campaign furniture used by British officers usually offered greater comfort than those found in the home.

During the Georgian period, good quality campaign furniture was only available to high ranking, wealthy officers who had the money to commission large elaborate pieces, often complete with leather lining, upholstery and, of course, hidden compartments.


However, by the Victorian era, even mid-ranking officers began to take whole suites of furniture on campaign.

Again, the officers would not settle for just any old piece of furniture; they were conscious of the latest fashions and would try to outdo each other with elaborate designs.

This is great news for today's collectors as it means there is a wide range of stylish pieces to discover.

A suite of campaign drawing-room furniture was advertised in the Army and Navy's General Price List in 1881 and comprised the following: a mahogany and walnut chiffonier designed to hold a 'knockdown' couch, a folding round or oval table, two collapsible easy chairs for a man and a woman, and four dining chairs stuffed with horsehair and covered with wool, damask or leather. As this reveals, not exactly basic!

A very popular piece with the Victorians was the two-part, brassbound chest of drawers, often used in a tent or in the traveller's cabin on a naval vessel and which could be easily carried in two parts.


These are not uncommon at auction today, largely as a result of their original popularity, but, as with all antiques, prices vary depending on condition, maker, design, uniqueness and so on.

Campaign chests often contain a few surprises such as folding tables, or sometimes even a set of four chairs, and such hidden gems will often add to the value.


The need for speed

There came a time when the type of campaign furniture that boasted elegant design, sumptuous upholstery and lining impeded mobility somewhat.

During the Boer War (1899-1902), British soldiers were required to move from camp to camp with some frequency and they soon realised their comfortable and elaborate furniture was slowing progress.

As a result, furniture taken on future campaigns would be more functional, lighter in weight, easier to assemble and generally less fancy.

The 'Roorkee' folding chair is a perfect example of this new-style campaign furniture.

It weighed a mere 10.5-13 lbs, had cross-folding legs and a simple canvas seat. The practicality of the Roorkee design became incredibly popular in India during the Age of Empire, as well as with the army and among campers.

Bear in mind when buying campaign furniture today that chairs such as the Roorkee were mass produced to a fixed design and therefore lack the individuality found in some earlier pieces.

This should be reflected in the price.

Making a mark

As many writers have noticed, most 18th century campaign furniture is unattributable to specific makers. However, some of the more famous names in cabinetmaking, such as Chippendale and Sheraton, produced designs for portable furniture. Indeed, by the end of the 18th century, specialist makers of camp furniture were on the increase, with Thomas Butler and Morgan & Sanders being among the more well-known.

During the 19th century, the number of campaign furniture specialists increased due to military demand, European migration to the colonies, and the revival of the Grand Tour,

It has been estimated that by the late 19th century approximately 85 campaign furniture designers were working in and around London.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Ross & Co of Dublin were another big name in campaign furniture.

A reputable company and the chief supplier to the army, most of their pieces are typically Victorian and are worth looking out for.

Collecting campaign furniture can be a rewarding hobby as you're buying a slice of social history.

There is also a wide range of wonderful portable pieces to discover, from cabinets, chests and bookshelves to writing tables and wash stands.

If furniture could speak, these things would have a few interesting traveller's tales to tell!

  • Georgian campaign furniture is generally more sought-after than Victorian.
  • However, a good maker's name on a Victorian piece could be an exception to this rule
  • If the history of a piece can be traced, this could enhance value

Elaborate, unique pieces commissioned by officers are in keen demand, so expect to pay a higher price for these
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