A brass bound, mahogany, short drawer Secretaire antique Campaign Chest by Gregory Kane of Dublin.
The secretaire has a maroon leather skiver that has built up a patina to almost blend in with the surrounding rosewood. G. Kane, Maker with the address of 68 - 69 Dame Street, Dublin is stamped to the leather writing surface. The secretaire has 2 short above 1 long drawer faced in rosewood and 4 pigeon holes above. Although often in the shadow of Ross & Co., Kane was a good Irish maker who was innovative in his work. He won a number of exhibition medals and he made good quality furniture.
The Dame Street address dates this chest to after 1847 but before 1887 when Kane died.
Gregory Kane, like a number of Campaign Furniture manufacturers, was first described in the Treble Almanac of 1829 as a Trunk Maker with premises at 8 1/2 Fishamble Street, Dublin.
He appears to have moved to 1 Fishamble in 1830 but continued as a Trunk Maker. He had his ups and downs as he was declared insolvent in June 1832 whilst still at Fishamble Street. However he must have moved his premises at this stage as in the Insolvent Debtors Court he was described as "Late of Fishamble Street." He clearly recovered from this little mishap and continued as a Trunk Maker at Essex Quay from 1833. By 1835 he was working out of both 3 and 29 Essex Quay, although in his newspaper advertisement from May 1835, for his "Portmanteau and General Trunk Warehouse," he described his location as 29 Essex Quay, within two doors of Essex Bridge. He considered himself to be "the only person in the Trade who manufactures Solid Leather Trunks" and played an active role in the workmanship which allowed him to sell his items at 20% less than any other house in Dublin. He describes using Bramah's Patent Locks and sold multiple items including horse skin portmanteaus, hat cases, carpet bags and even violin and guitar cases; however he makes no reference to Barrack/Military furniture at this stage. He continued advertising the above through 1835 and 1836.
In December 1836, Michael Ennis reached into his shop window and stole a portmanteau. Roger Ferrall, who was in Mr. Kane's employ caught the thief a few doors down from the shop. In court the thief could not recollect a word of the incident, due to the fact that he suffered fits of epilepsy. He was, however, still found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment.
Through 1837 he continued to work out of 29 Essex Quay and continued to advertise himself to gentleman attending the "Elections in the Country" as well as to travellers. His wares now included ladies trunks and bonnet cases. In 1838 he opened premises at 81 Dame Street (nearly opposite the Lower Castle-Gate) but still continued at 29 Essex Quay. He described his business as a "Solid Leather Basil and Horse Skin Portmanteau Warehouse." He now included military chests in his wares as well as an improved description of a solid leather portmanteau, which he marketed to the military and gentleman travelling. The portmanteau had an expanding top, whilst preserving a compact, portable appearance.
As is evident throughout Gregory Kane's life, he was a dedicated philanthropist and in 1839 he was appointed to a committee to elicit subscriptions for six young children whose father had died unexpectedly. This attitude continued through Kane's life.
By the 26th September 1839 he no longer advertised 29 Essex Quay and we can only presume that he had left the premises and continued on solely at 81 Dame Street. In October 1839, working as a "portmanteau and trunk maker," he came before the local Magistrate to ask advice on a portmanteau that he had made. It was apparently of extraordinary construction and extremely valuable and was made following receipt of an order from a doctor for a lady in Rathmines. When it was presented to her, however, she stated she had never ordered it. He was advised to continue with civil proceedings.
He continued at 81 Dame Street through 1840, and in 1841 he exhibited leather trunks and hat cases at a Meeting of Irish Manufacturers in Rotundo called by the Lord Major. He now included harnesses, saddles, writing desks and dressing cases as part of his wares. He exhibited a hat case, a trunk and a patent square hat case at the Royal Dublin Society's House Exhibition of Irish Manufacture, Produce and Invention in June 1841. The patent square hat case, was described as particularly unique and superior to anything of the same kind.
In 1842 he described himself as a "Military Portmanteau and Harness Manufactory," and his extensive stock included cabinet work such as mahogany and rosewood writing desks and dressing cases, work boxes and tea caddies. He was able to sell at 10 to 20% lower than other houses as he had just returned from the Continent with a great quantity of leather. He also advertised that he had been awarded a Silver Medal by the Royal Dublin Society and now advertised trunks and chests for the East and West Indies.
He continued at 81 Dame Street through to 1844, when he advertised a newly-invented portmanteau for ladies, with separate compartments for bonnets, caps and dresses. He again exhibited at the Royal Dublin Society Exhibition of Articles of Irish Manufacture, Produce and Invention, and this included portmanteaus and trunks. In 1845 he moved from 81 Dame Street and opened 68 Dame Street, advertising that he had again received a Silver Medal from the Royal Dublin Society. He was still described in the directories as a "Portmanteau and Trunk Maker." He appears to have opened further rooms or perhaps living quarters at 69 Dame Street in 1846, to add to 68 Dame Street. He now advertised "Malles Postes" portmanteaus which were designed for travellers to France, due to the strict regulations with regards size of portmanteau. He also sold air-tight chests, school trunks and oil cloth covers, overland mail portmanteaus as well as new and second hand Camp Furniture.
In 1847 he finally described himself "By Special Appointment" as a "Military Portmanteau, Dressing-Case and Camp Furniture Manufacturer to the Earl of Besborough." He exhibited at the Royal Dublin Society Exhibition in July 1847 and his collection included a brass bedstead, hair mattress, bed clothes, and dressing case, complete in a portmanteau, not larger than a band-box. These were particularly suited for a military man. He also paid particularly reference in his advertisements to a pair of ordinary trunks, which were made to form a beautiful military chest of drawers, a canteen, a secretary and a pair of tables.
He was again in court in 1847, after one of his employees, John Rudd, who had previously neglected his business, cut out leather to make seven trunks but left it unfinished. He appealed to the local Magistrate that he wanted to "preserve the branch of Irish Trade in the country." He further argued that Rudd's actions could drive enterprise and industry from the country. John Rudd was sent for one month's hard labour.
He achieved another small Silver Medal from the Royal Dublin Society for his lady's double Russian leather portmanteau, as well as other gentlemen's portmanteaus. He also advertised full sets of Camp Furniture to the Army and these included Patton and Harstow's Iron Bedsteads. He opened extensive premises to include both 68 and 69 Dame Street in November 1847, and described them as "Camp Furniture and Portmanteau Warerooms." His "Native Artisans" made up every article of Military Equipage, and according to Mr. Kane the articles could not be excelled by the best London Houses.
A sale of Kane's wares was held in December 1848, in order to make room for a planned extension of another branch of his establishment. Presumably this was to extend into 70 Dame Street although he only advertised the premises as "68, 69 and 70 Dame Street" from 1850 onwards. A handsome Crown and gas Tubing initialled "V.A." on an iron balcony adorned his shop in August 1849 for the visit of the Queen to Ireland. He noted in advertisements that he was able to deliver military outfits to any Barracks in England, Scotland and Ireland at no extra expense.
In the Irish Almanac of 1850 he is noted as the "Portmanteau Maker to the Lord Lieutenant" and was also recorded as having a premises at Mountainville Lodge, Dundrum. The Lord Lieutenant had visited the Royal Dublin Society's Exhibition and Gregory Kane had erected and furnished the marquee in which he had luncheon. The furnishings were representative of the furniture with which a colonel on active service might have outfitted his tent whilst on active duty abroad. Included was a plain deal (British for Pine or Fir tree wood) box, three feet three inches by one foot six inches. When assembled, every part could be converted into articles of furniture, including a round table, sofa with bedding, six chairs, a carpet, a hearth rug, a table cover, a dressing case and other articles. He was awarded a Gold Medal and Certificate at the Exhibition. He also appealed to ladies and gentlemen travelling to Australia and the Colonies. In particular he was able to supply portable furniture of every description.
The Lord Lieutenant paid a visit to his factory on the 31st March 1851 and is said to have expressed his high approval of the "neatness, elegance and convenient arrangement of the articles" shown to him. These included camp and portable furniture of all descriptions, in particular his "Travelling Cabinet."
In April 1851 he was addressed in the Freeman Journal alongside other Camp Furniture Establishments in Dublin, including the famous Eleanor Ross of Ross & Co, Ellis Quay; where they felt the need to explain to Mr. Kane that they used only Cabinet Makers, in the manufacture of every branch of portable furniture. Quite what the disagreement was, is unknown.
He exhibited at The Great Exhibition in 1851 and in particular displayed his "Registered Travelling Cabinet," and advertised it for viewing to Dubliners prior to it being transported to London. His Travelling Cabinet was patented on July 23 1851 and included a cabinet and book case, a circular table, a side table, a sofa table, a mahogany couch, six chairs, curtains, a carpet and a hearth rug. He also won a Prize Medal for his Travelling Bedstead, which "within the compass of one small box contains all that is necessary for the traveller."
Evidently proud of the number of prizes he had won at previous exhibitions he started advertising that fact in 1852 and listed the following:
1841 - The Royal Dublin Society's Silver Medal - For Portmanteaus
1844 - The Royal Dublin Society's Silver Medal - For Lady's Portmanteaus
1847 - The Royal Dublin Society's Silver Medal - For Camp Furniture
1850 - The Royal Dublin Society's Gold Medal - For Camp Furniture and Portmanteaus
1851 - The Great Exhibition Prize Medal - For Camp Furniture and Portmanteaus
He also claimed to be the manufacturer to the Garrison, and due to the numerous and pressing orders for his Prize Cabinet, he made up an additional supply. Gregory Kane was granted a further patent for the "construction of Portable Houses or portions thereof, out of parts, which may be used for other purposes," on the 10th May 1852 and proceeded to exhibit at the National Exhibition in Cork in the same year, and this included a newly invented portmanteau with three parts expanding.
He exhibited at the Great Industrial Exhibition in Dublin in 1853 where he displayed a small cabinet with the remarkable ability to transform into a chiffonier, a chest of drawers, a dining table and a dozen chairs. He also exhibited what appeared to be a common square box, which quickly converted into a well-stuffed easy chair. His shop was again adorned with a gas lit, crown surmounting the initials "V.A." for the visit of Her Majesty in August 1853. Her presence was also noted at the Exhibition where she attended Mr. Kane's extraordinary portable house and made "a minute examination of the contents."
He was granted a patent on the 2nd March 1854 for a "Patent Portmanteau Field Bed" and "Patent Envelope Bed" and threatened in a newspaper advertisement to take legal action against any persons infringing on the patent. He informed the Army that these campaign beds were only to be obtained at his establishment.
Alterations were performed in September 1854 to expand and add to his business premises at 68, 69 and 70 Dame Street and he invited tenders for the work. After the extensions he found himself again before the magistrates in 1855, after a certain John Martin of Peter Street had used abusive language against him as well as discharging a loaded weapon into the garden of a Mrs. Patten, who was with Mr. Kane's wife at the time.
From 1855-56 Kane appealed directly to the Militia as well as to officers leaving for the Crimea, to whom he touted an outfit for an Officer's Room at one half the usual price. Again Mr. Kane was the victim of an attempted robbery when the grating was removed from his entrance on a Tuesday night in February 1856. Fortunately for him the policeman on duty thwarted the attempt. The very same store was beautifully decorated for the Queen's birthday in May 1856, with the display including "V.A.N.E." (A combination, of the initials of the Queen, Prince Albert, Louis Napoleon, and the Empress Eugenie) separated by stars. The display in his window included the new Continental portmanteaus, and perhaps seen deeper in the shop were the bedstead and even the children's cots he now sold.
Continuing in his philanthropic ways he attended and subscribed to the Crimean Banquet in 1856. Mr. Kane is still listed in the Irish Almanac at 68, 69, and 70 Dame Street in 1857 and he continued to advertise "The Travelling Cabinet" as well as a multitude of portmanteaus of the newest design. His products now included a patented air-tight bullock trunk which was designed specifically for gentlemen proceeding to the India War, due to its impervious nature to destruction from insects and white ants. By 1859 he was referring to his business as a "Cabinet and Upholstery Ware-Room" and he appealed to the Officers in the Garrison as well as gentlemen recently gazetted. He continued along his visceral pattern of advertising by equipping the ball room at the Beggar's Bush Barracks for the 30th Regimental Ball.
A further patent was granted to Mr. Kane on the 8th June 1860 for "Kane's Portable Folding Bedstead," and he advertised this to the above mentioned persons as well as intending tourists. In 1861 Kane was awarded "Her Majesty's Letters Patent under the Great Seal," for this very military bedstead and it proved very popular with Officers of the Army.
The Great Exhibition of 1862 was a perfect advertisement for Kane's wares, and these included, as usual, his "Travelling Cabinet" and portmanteaus. He also included items that were air tight to exclude insects and portmanteaus with a lap of cow hide, in order to prevent water from seeping in. He continued to advertise his "Kane Portable Travelling Cabinet" which contained the entire furniture of a Drawing-Room as late as 1863. He again adorned his shop with a great quantity of light to illuminate a Crown, Prince's Plume and Ribbon, for the celebration of the Royal Marriage of Albert Edward, The Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark in March.
With the patronage of the Army he constructed perhaps the most extraordinary piece of campaigning kit ever devised: A "Portable House" or "Australian House" for a Captain Richardson's estate in Madras, India. Prior to its transport it was exhibited at his premises for Dubliners attention. A similar portable house was displayed in the yard in front of the Society House at the Royal Dublin Society's Exhibition in 1864.This appears to be the only such portable house ever recorded and is arguably the ultimate expression of portability. After all, why not have a portable house to fill with all that portable furniture. This structure makes Kane unique amongst Campaign Furniture manufacturers.
In 1865 Mr. Kane is noted as having adorned his shop in plume and finery with the letters "A.A." for the visit of the Prince of Wales. He also found the time to attend the International Exhibition in the same year where "Camp Furniture of the best and most compact description" was displayed.
He continued his Royal appreciation in 1868 by again decorating his establishment with a Crown, four letters and a star for the Royal Visit. The display was described in the Dublin Evening Post as both artistic and effective. Gregory Kane continued in his establishment at 68, 69 and 70 Dame Street through 1870 when he advertised Christmas and wedding presents, including dressing cases, dressing bags, work boxes and other fancy goods. This year saw him re-sorting his warerooms, and selling cheaply a large quantity of soiled and second hand portmanteaus and bags.He continued to advertise Christmas presents from Dame Street through December 1874, and contributed a number of prizes to Dublin Bazaars in 1875 and 1876. He continued to appeal to members of the Army and was still advertising a "Complete Outfit of Barrack Furniture" in 1876 and 1877 to new Officers.
From 1877 through 1884 he also continued his charitable giving, contributing significantly to Subscriptions and Bazaars. He continued with the business, however, and was still advertising portmanteaus and Gladstone Bags in 1885, two years before his death in 1887.
After his death his significant assets were auctioned off by James H. North and these included Shamrock Lodge in Dalkey as well as the leasehold interest and the entire stock of valuable camp furniture and portmanteaus of 68, 69 and 70 Dame Street. The auctions ran from December 1877 until August 1888.
All that remains today from the output of this significant Victorian maker of Campaign furniture are a very few chests and desks, invariably of the highest quality, that appear only sporadically on the open market.
We are very grateful to Jordan Pryce Lewis & Nicholas Brawer for writing this article.