An antique teak Portable Pedestal Desk by the Army & Navy CSL with its original oilcloth top.
The desk splits into 3 parts as to be expected with a plinth base to the pedestals. The drawers are full depth and have brass campaign handles. The round A&N CSL logo is inset to the top edge of the top righthand drawer. Given the desk has an overhanging moulded top edge, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a domestic piece of furniture. The Society's catalogue of 1883 describes it as a Portable Pedestal Writing Table and packing cases were available to buy with it. The desk has a simple but clever way of ensuring that each pedestal is set to the correct side when re-assembling it. The pedestals have one lug each and one receiving hole for a lug fixed to the top; the left side has the lug to the front whereas on the right it is to the back. It is a useful size and by a good maker widely associated with campaign furniture. Circa 1880.
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.