Period Folding Campaign Chair
by Jeff "Ironmule" Smith
Originally published in the GA CoHT newsletter - Oct/Nov 2004 edition

The original chair that inspired Jeff’s creation.

I've just finished building a prototype 18thC chair/bed. It folds up into a packhorse transportable package, unfolds into a pretty comfortable chair, and then unfolds further into a camp bed. Sleeps fine. I haven't yet worked out how they did the four poster thing with it, but they'd drape mosquito netting over it to cut down on the nighttime blood donations. The prototype is heavy at 66lbs, but I think my second one will be more historically accurate and weigh 35-40lbs. I haven't been able to source correct period hinges, and have used door hinges. I'm not even trying to do the horsehair stuffed red Moroccan leather cushions yet.

The wood is salvaged from a front porch destined for a burn pile. It's 50+ years old already. You can spot old nail holes, and it has hinge mortises in the wrong places and holes drilled where I didn't mean to. The next one will have a red oak back, like the mahogany of the original.

Jeff’s chairbed, fully extended.

When I took these photos, I still hadn't cut the reliefs, where the unvarnished added piece lets the seat back slant. It needed a little cutout to slip past the armrest in the folded position.

My mattress is 3" thick firm foam in pillow ticking from Tentsmith's, 32" wide. I have been looking online, and in bookstores, for 18thC upholstery info, with little success. I just joined the Society of American Period Furniture Makers and will have a number of questions to ask once I've read enough in the archives of their forum, to know if any of my questions have already been answered. There's a couple of other woodworker's forums I need to do some searching in as well, but I need to sleep a little once in a while.

There are many non-period elements to this piece, but I can use it around the house, and in camp, to learn about the best way to live with this kind of furniture. Maybe a pillow cushion and a straight back will be better than a slanted back. The red suede leather of the original at the antique dealer, was from a time when nobody went around bare armed and sweaty, so body oils didn't make cleaning the leather a nightmare. Many appear to have been caned, and others had cloth covered cushions.

I'm working from a book titled "British Campaign Furniture, elegance under canvas 1740-1914" by Nicholas Brawer. Google BCF and you'll get hundreds of hits for places selling the book. The officers literally took all the comforts of home with them. Many items were purchased by civilian travelers. Some couch/beds served to provide for unexpected visitors in normal homes.

I'm finding I need to combine magnifying glass perusal of the photo's with the education that comes from having built one. I didn't see all kinds of important things in the first year I owned the book.

Jeff’s version, arranged as a chair.

Jeff’s chairbed, folded up and ready to travel.

Other camp furniture that Jeff found online:

Campaign Sofa Bed

This mahogany Campaign Sofa Bed is designed to easily come apart for travel. The scroll shaped arms and back are fixed to the seat by mortise and tenon joints, which obviously are not glued in place like a standard sofa. They are strong enough to hold the sections firmly in place but allow them to be removed. The show wood cresting rail to the top of the sofa also sits in place with mortise and tenon joints but has an iron strap to either end which is screwed to the back of the two arms to strengthen the sofa when set up. When the seat cushion is lifted the hinged four section bed is revealed. This lifts up and unfolds to extend out. The 3 sections that are proud of the sofa each have a pair of legs that screw in to support it. The back of the sofa and the first section of the bed have bolt fittings which presumably were for fixing a canopy. Although this sofa has no maker's mark, it can be seen from 'British Campaign Furniture' by Brawer that a number of manufacturers, including Butler and Morgan and Sanders, were making similar pieces. Circa 1830.

Height: 37 Inches ins.
Width: 75 Inches ins.
Depth: 25 Inches ins.

Something else of interest:

Cutlery Case with Goblet.

This cutlery set is very interesting in that it appears to have been adapted by it owner from the outset. Whereas you would expect it to have a leather and papier mache tub, fitted to take the implements, it does not. The owner seems to have discarded it in order that he might fit in a small goblet, fitted with a shaped three part condiment tower. The ivory handled knife, fork and spoon with the additional medicine spoon sit loosely in the beaker around the goblet and were presumably stopped from rattling by a napkin. All parts are engraved with the entwined initials 'RHW' and seem to be contemporary to each other. Apart from the case which is blue leather and the corkscrew and knife blade which are steel, the parts are all silver plated. The spoon and fork are stamped with the maker's mark of 'WH & SBP' whilst the medicine spoon is marked 'S & B' with a crown and 'EP' . Mid 19th century. Case size is given. H5 1/8 W3 ¼ D 3 ¼

Height: 5.15 ins.
Width: 3.25 ins.
Depth: 3.25 ins.