Antique Campaign/Captain portable writing desk - help!

Discussion in 'Militaria' started by SEAN DINEEN, Mar 9, 2020.


    SEAN DINEEN Member

    Hello, I've posted a thread in the furniture forum but wanted to see if any here could help me identify the age of this writing desk. I purchased at a GW in San Diego and just impressed with the size ~24" in length, brass hardware and lined with felt and the "desk" side has a few original pieces including pencil, blue blotter paper, letter opener, wax bar, and a quill box with scratch paper (probably to sharpen quills?). The inkwell has heraldic anchor & dolphin/serpent on lid. I was able to capture and reverse the blotter to read the writing print through. I believe it reads "...and left on the following Sunday for Victoria (not sure of this word...) not sure of the outer wood maybe mahogany, but the internal compartments look like rosewood.

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    Any Jewelry likes this.
  2. i need help

    i need help Well-Known Member

    Any Jewelry and Christmasjoy like this.
  3. flipper

    flipper Striving to face adversity with tact and humor

    I would like to see the whole table or the entire piece of portable table.

    SEAN DINEEN Member

    Hi, the desk is just a box, no table with this piece. The picture with the felt showing is the writing/desks surface completely opened.
  5. flipper

    flipper Striving to face adversity with tact and humor

    I understand. From the pictures you've posted it looks rather a briefcase. I just wondered if I was seeing it correctly.

    SEAN DINEEN Member

    You are correct, it is thin compared to some of the other portable writing desks I've seen.. The dimensions are 27.5" in length, 4" thick when closed and 2" when opened. I suspect there may have been a folding table that came with....
  7. Bakersgma

    Bakersgma Well-Known Member

    SEAN DINEEN likes this.

    SEAN DINEEN Member

    Thanks @Shangas replied to my other post, with helpful information!! Any thoughts of this desk ever having a stand or table bottom? Also interested in @Shangas reply on inkwell with anchor and dolphin marking....
  9. Shangas

    Shangas Underage Antiques Collector and Historian

    I have seen writing cases and campaign desks which did come with square/rectangular-based stands, but that's not what I'm seeing here. A friend of mine had one for sale...for some obscene amount of money, once. I'd like to say I bought it off of him, but...oy, the price!!

    I'd say something like this is mid-Victorian. 1850s to 1870s.

    There's only two places named "VICTORIA" that I know of. Victoria, the state in Australia (where I live), and the city of Victoria, BC, in Canada. The STATE of Victoria did not exist until 1851, so if it's referring to the state, then you'll know that it's from at least 1852. If it's referencing the city, then I think 1862.

    Writing cases like this would've been common on merchant ships or navy ships back in the day, because there just wasn't the space to have a whole desk on board, and personal space was very limited, even for the officers.

    That said, this would've been very expensive, a fully-fitted box like this, with the inkwells, the striker, blotting-paper, and the accessories all set out in ivory (as they would've been back then). This is basically your Victorian-era laptop computer, so think of how much a good laptop costs these days, and you'll get an idea of what someone had to shell out, ca. 1860-odd, to buy one of these.

    The quill-box is most likely a matchbox. They were often sold as sets, with inkwells. You take out the matches and strike them against the abrasive paper to light them. This would've been to light your candle, your oil-lamp, or to melt your stick of sealing wax.

    Boxes like these had to be self-contained. Once you packed it up, you were off for weeks or months at a time, so they had to carry everything you might possibly need for correspondence or work. Where you're going, you may not be able to get - notepaper, blotting-paper, ink, spare pens or nibs, pencils, a pocketknife, matches, etc. So it all had to be brought with you.

    I have seen these flat "briefcase-style" writing cases before, but not many. In all my years of collecting them, I've come across...2 or 3? They're definitely out there, but they don't seem to have been very common.

    SEAN DINEEN Member

    Wow thanks @shagas I really appreciate the comprehensive response!! I'm from BC so like your thoughts on either Canada or Australia. it's not in bad shape cosmetically and wanted to know your thoughts on the wood. Were these typically teak, mahogany/ cherry?
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2020
  11. Shangas

    Shangas Underage Antiques Collector and Historian

    Doesn't look dark enough to be mahogany? Teak maybe, but I'm not an expert on wood-types.
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