MILITIA RIFLE COMPANY STORAGE CHEST ABOUT 1825-1845

$975.00

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Item Code: 30-2147

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A very scarce U.S. militia rifle company’s storage chest. This measures 31.75 inches wide, 17 inches deep and stands 12.5 inches tall. It has excellent original period forest green paint with about 90 percent coverage and white stencil decoration on the top reading. “RIFLE CO.” and “16th REGT.” in top and bottom arcs, with an arc of small five-pointed white stars above and another below. Across the middle of the designation are three large five-pointed stars, each with a smaller star between its points. The chest probably dates about 1825 to 1845, the highpoint of the “elegant elite” militia movement in the United States.

The top and sides of the chest are painted green, appropriate as the standard branch of service color for riflemen. The interior and underside are left in their natural color. The sides of the box are dovetailed. A folding iron carrying handle is screwed into either end. There are some narrow age cracks, but nothing big and they are stable. Also, some scattered scuff marks and places where some wood has chipped out, but no major areas of paint loss. The back edge of the lid has a narrow strip missing for a few inches on the left of the box and there are some other minor chips at the nails securing the lid to its sidebars on the left. On the whole, however, the box is very solid and preserves an incredible percentage of its original painted surface that is visually pleasing and makes for a great display.

The box is fitted with a keyed latch at the front, and has a central divider inside that creates two full-depth square compartments. The underside of the lid has a period pencil notation that reads: “57 Knap / 47 Can / 48 W. L. [????]” Chances are this records the contents of the chest as 57 knapsacks, 47 canteens and 48 of some other accoutrement. The seems a lot for one chest, but the knapsacks were likely the thin canvas parade packs usually painted with a regimental designation or appropriate military or patriotic motif. And, the canteens were probably the small parade style, usually paint-decorated as well, which fulfilled militia regulations that every man would have a canteen, without specifying the size. The remaining item seems to read “W. L last,” which defies our best interpreters, but certainly refers to a similar piece of gear.

Militia regiments often had a number of line or battalion companies with flank companies assigned from a different branch of service: artillery, riflemen, etc. Even in the period of the mandatory enrolled militia, these flank companies were often uniformed volunteer companies who had their own small armories or meeting places and held their own drills and parades in addition to regularly appointed regimental field days. While every adult male citizen was part of the “enrolled militia,” volunteer uniformed militia companies often became elite social organizations who sought to outdo one another in drill competitions, target practice and the like. Interest faded in the wake of the Mexican War and militia service ceased to be mandatory, but volunteer militia groups held on and began to revive as the Civil War approached.

Ante-bellum militia material offers both history and eye-appeal to the collector. Chests like this seldom survive, and usually not in this condition. They were far too useful as blanket chest or toolbox. This one is a rare survivor and would work wonderfully as the centerpiece of a militia display.  [SR]

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