Antique and Vintage Backgammon Sets

The roots of backgammon date to 3000 BCE, when well-born Mesopotamians would play the Royal Game of Ur. The earliest version of the game was discovered in 2004 in what is now Iran. That archaeological find featured an ebony board (in those days, this type of wood was imported from India), pieces fashioned from local agate and turquoise, and a pair of dice made from human bones.

Ancient Egyptians also played a variation of the game, as did the Romans (Emperors Claudius and Nero used it to gamble) and 6th-century Indians. By the Middle Ages, variations of backgammon were common throughout Europe, and by the Renaissance the game was being depicted in paintings, perhaps most famously in Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” By 1743, backgammon was so widespread that Hoyle had published his first book of rules for it.

The oldest intact and usable sets tend to come from the Victorian Era. The boards are often made of wood and designed so that they could be folded up into a box—the pieces and dice were secured in compartments inside. Sets from Asia are often found in jade and bone. Other backgammon sets may feature ivory or Bakelite pieces and dice, which are paired with hardwood boxes and boards. Sets made after the 1920s also often include a doubling cube.


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