The action of the escretoire to this teak chest is very compact yet sensible.
Most campaign chests with a secretaire have a full length or short top drawer with a fall front. This chest stands out for having a different mechanism. The secretaire drawer is set lower on the chest and pulls out. There is a satinwood and leather angled, writing surface to the middle under which the hinged paper rack behind it is housed during travel. There is also a lidded compartment underneath it that hides a catch to operate the secret drawer. To either side of the writing area are compartments with slide lids. The one to the right has a pen tray etc. with a velvet lined secret drawer below it. Contained within this drawer are 12 lucky coins, some wrapped in paper. They are mostly English but there are two American coins, one Argentinean and one French. They date from 1853 to 1891. There is also a gold ring engraved with the initials TH.
The chest has the circular ivorine Army & Navy name plate to the top left drawer. The shape of the removable feet are typical of the maker. The secretaire to this chest is more considered and involved than most designs and very practical for it. Late 19th century.
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.