Chinese Export Furniture
Chinese Export FurnitureA huge amount of furniture, made for the Western market, was produced by Chinese Cabinet Makers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Although it might be assumed that it was all made in Canton, it wasn't. Chinese craftsman spread out to many of the busy ports in Asia to ply their trade. Calcutta is just one example of a city that had a Chinese community making furniture for the British. Furniture was also made in the Philippines, Penang and Batavia to name just a few locations. Whereas a wide range of items from sofas to bureau bookcases were made in the 18th and early 19th centuries, by the middle of the century production concentrated more on easily repeated items.
Many items of campaign furniture fall into this category and although there was some variation, the designs didn't change much. The predominant wood used was camphor and most campaign pieces made in this aromatic timber were made by an Asian hand. The smarter pieces used timber that was more decorative such as amboyna. British campaign chests are sometimes miss-described as being made of camphor but the wood nearly always points to a more exotic origin. The design and quality of the brass ware also gives strong clues as to the maker of a piece of campaign furniture. The flush campaign handles found on Export campaign chests are for the most part quite distinctive with three or four designs used.
Some of the earlier furniture was commissioned by ship's captains for customers back home but much of the campaign furniture was likely to have been purchased by the military on route to their posting. Trunks were popular items throughout the 19th century and could be filled with other purchases to make the most of cargo space for a captain to maximise his profits. Some were bought by English trunk makers who added their own labels but the difference between the makers is normally apparent to the experienced eye. Making and selling furniture, whether domestic or for travel became a big business for Chinese cabinet makers. So much so that in Canton alone a whole area around Carpenter's Square was named after them.