A brass bound, oak Cavalry Chest with secretaire drawer.
For modern use, the Cavalry Chest has probably the most practical design of secretaire. The majority of Victorian campaign chests have a secretaire set at a height to stand at to work. This design of chest has a pull-out drawer to the middle which sits over your legs when sat at. It has a leather writing area to the middle with compartments to either side and a hinged stationery compartment. When stood upright, this compartment also supports the writing area at a comfortable angle to work at. The work surface can also be lifted up from the front to access compartments underneath. Both the compartments have slide covers. The one to the left has a plain interior whilst the one to the right has compartments for ink wells and pens etc. and a secret drawer underneath.
The Cavalry Chest is most commonly associated with the Army and Navy Store Co-Operative Ltd but other makers, such as Hill & Millard were also known to make the design. This chest has an inset A&N CSL disc to the top right short drawer. The cavalry regiments where thought of as the smartest, hence the chest's name.
Although the A&N CSL commonly advertised the option of oak for their chests they are less common than those in mahogany and teak, suggesting that demand for the wood at the time was lower. For people using the chest in a foreign climate, this makes perfect sense. Circa 1900.
The Army & Navy Store Co-Operative Society Limited, to give their full title, was set by in 1871 by a group of army and naval officers who had decided they were paying too much for their wine. If they clubbed together to buy wholesale, they could greatly reduce the price. If this could be done for wine, it could be done for most other things and indeed the A&N CSL went on to sell just about everything imaginable from food and drink to clothing, furniture, sporting goods, luggage and toys.
Membership was restricted to officers, non-commissioned officers and their families. Friends could join by introduction and officials from the civil service and clubs etc. could also join. Premises were opened at 105 Victoria Street and the Society quickly grew to be a very large concern with depots at important army bases and ports. With a large demand from members in India, a store was opened in Bombay in 1891, followed by Karachi in 1892 and Calcutta in 1901.
The Society also manufactured or commissioned a number of the items they sold. This is particularly true of the items we are interested in, travel furniture and luggage etc. We also have a theory that the A&N CSL workshops may have supplied other retailers such as Harrods. Although many of the London campaign furniture makers were producing similar items of furniture, a number of pieces sold by Harrods bear a striking similarity to those marked A&N CSL. However, the Army & Navy Store tended to label their items whereas this was less of a concern for Harrods. Four digit reference numbers are often to be found stamped on pieces sold by both companies.
The A&N CSL used a variety of different labels and stamps throughout their history but more often than not the wording 'Army & Navy C.S.L. Makers' was used. Some labels also show addresses. Brass and ivorine labels are known as well as applied leather labels on luggage and both impressed and ink stamps.
The speed and size of the Society's growth was remarkable but still they managed to keep an eye on quality and customer service. Their name changed in 1934 from the Army & Navy Co-Operative Society Ltd to The Army & Navy Stores Ltd. They were eventually taken over by The House of Frazer in 1981.