Sean Clarke, of Christopher Clarke Antiques in Stow-on-the-Wold, paid £4200 plus 25% buyer’s premium for the chest at Sworders’ auction in Stansted Mountfitchet on September 22-23. The estimate was £800-1200.
The 2ft 7in wide x 3ft 3in high (83.5cm x 1m) piece is engraved on the brass handles with the name of the owner: Lt-Col [Robert Clement] Garnham (1782-1827), who was a “very interesting member of the Honourable East India Company” and one of the aides-de-camp to Raffles in Java, said Clarke.
Not only is provenance a huge part of the appeal for such campaign furniture, but the details available on Garnham’s sea voyages between Britain, Java and India allowed Clarke to track the chest down to an unusually small time period.
Very important example
“This chest is one we feel is very important in the history of campaign furniture. It is the earliest example that can be accurately dated,” said Clarke. With Garnham’s rank marked, and knowing when he died, “we can date it to between May 1, 1822, and June 18, 1825 – very, very specific”.
He added: “This is very early for an English-made, brass-bound, two-part campaign chest. The earliest example we have had previously of a campaign chest that we can accurately date through the owner, his rank and regiment was around 1835.
“We have had earlier ones but they’ve been more akin to domestic furniture of the date with overhanging mouldings and no brass edges.”
The chest is “basically of the form that we commonly think of as a campaign chest today”, Clarke said – brass corners, flush handles, two parts, removable screw-in feet. The feet were missing but Clarke said these would now be replaced.
“We have probably sold 350-400 campaign chests in 20 years but of those, maybe just 20 we could accurately date. If you have the owner’s details and rank then you can do the research but it is harder with East India Company soldiers because the army lists are not as easily available.”
Regarding this collecting market, Clarke said: “People who generally buy campaign chests are not necessarily collectors; they just like the look of them, have always wanted one. Some do go to collectors and I would imagine that eventually this chest might, or possibly even a museum. It is certainly good enough.”
Guy Schooling of Sworders said: “This was a lovely chest consigned by a gentleman from Sussex for whom we are selling many items at present. He has reviewed his lifestyle and business during lockdown and has decided to simplify both. Interestingly, he is not my only vendor to do so.”
Games on the go
Separately, coming up in Sworders’ December 8 Fine Interiors auction is a 19th century inlaid mahogany campaign games table. The chequer inlaid box contains a brace extending column and folding tripod which assembles to form the table. The brace has a catch to lock it in place, the legs are locked into position by the column. The estimate is £800-1200.