Antique and Vintage Chess Sets

Few board games can claim the same breadth of history as chess, which spans the globe, transcending borders and languages. It is taught to elementary school students, many of whom simply enjoy the shapes of the pieces, and also played by serious grandmasters, a title some say was first bestowed by Czar Nicholas II of Russia in 1914.

In many ways, the expansion of chess’s popularity has paralleled world events. The game required no common tongue, so when one empire conquered another, this war game was often passed from one army to another.

The game of chess as played in 6th-century India used a die to determine which figure would be moved. The pieces represented the king and his four military divisions: foot soldiers, cavalry, charioteers, and troops atop elephants. When the game later expanded into Persia, a wise man, which would later become what we now know as a queen, was added.

The Persian pastime soon spread to Arab nations, who checkmated the Persians in real battle in the 7th century. With the takeover came the appropriation of culture, including the passing of chess into the Arab world. The Arabs had a great deal of influence on the development of chess because of their strict Muslim beliefs that prohibited them from creating images of living things. Hence, the abstract designs of Arab chess pieces. Today, abstract design versus realistic representation is a major differentiator between collectible chess sets.

Middle Eastern chess pieces were normally carved from ivory, bone, or stone. Though they rarely come up for sale, a few of these 7th- and 8th-century chess sets still surface today. It wasn’t until the 10th century that chess boards were given dark and light squares.

Arab cultures introduced chess to the Western world. By the 16th century, rolling the die was a thing of the past, and the game essentially took the form it has today. Chess pieces from this period came in all shapes and sizes. Many were quite literal, depicting, for example, a king sitting on his throne or a knight riding a horse. Designers added even more variety by intricately carving the pieces from ivory, wood, and even glass.

While chess sets from the 18th century are prized by collectors, some of those from the 19th century are even more sought after. In 1849, Nathaniel Cooke designed the Staunton ch...

Staunton chess sets had semi-abstract pieces, though with ample differentiation between them—in the years leading up to the Staunton set, players often had trouble distinguishing rooks from knights. Capitalizing on Staunton’s fame, these sets quickly became the norm for tournaments, and most modern chess sets are modeled after them.

Jaques produced Staunton sets in both ivory and wood. The pieces came in various sizes, with the most common sets having a 3 ½-inch-tall king. While it is difficult to date many of these early Staunton sets, it isn’t too tough to ensure that a set is indeed a Staunton. The identifying marks are the small crowns stamped on the top of one of the rooks and knights of each color, indicating they are king-side pieces. Some of the kings also have an inscription reading “J. Jaques, London” on their bases.

Although the Staunton is the most famous chess set design (it is still used for tournaments today), it is by no means the only collectible type of set. Because chess is such a widely played game, collectors have a lot of choice. Some prefer ornamental sets, while others like to accumulate sets from a particular region of the world. Some go for sets made of one material, while others enjoy modern sets littered with pop-culture references.

Those who choose to collect by region have many options. You can collect Asian chess sets, which are almost exclusively made of ivory; fancier sets feature gold and silver. Some of the finest carved figures substitute Japanese samurai soldiers for knights and temples for rooks. Then there are the Indian sets, which have figures riding camels and elephants—an homage to the earliest form of the game played by its originators.

In the United Kingdom there have been dozens of memorable designs, such as the stone and ivory Calvert sets made between 1791 and 1840. Calvert sets were known for their pristine, sleek design and can be identified by their “Calvert 189 Fleet Stt” stamp. Another popular British style was St. George’s, which was common throughout the 19th century and featured ovals up and down the shafts of each piece.

Vintage chess sets from Germany, Austria, Poland, and the former Czechoslovakia also have their own styles, as do sets from the Philippines, locales in Africa, and various countries in Central and South America. Modern American and European sets, in contrast, are nearly identical, although there are slight variations—bishops are often jesters in France and runners in Germany.

In the 20th-century, the Cold War tensions between the United States and the USSR were played out on the chess board. Chess was a big deal in Eastern Europe long before the Cold War, and chess masters such as Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, and Garry Kasparov were seen in the West as unassailable powerhouses—until Bobby Fischer appeared on the scene, the United States’ great chess hope. Fischer broke down the wall of Soviet chess dominance once and for all when he became the undisputed world chess champion from 1972 to 1975.

There is a wide variety of Russian and Soviet chess sets, often depending on the particular region where the set was made. In some sets, rooks are replaced by boats, while Russian sets in general are known for their spire tops. The Soviets were also pioneers in the use of plastic to make their chess pieces.

Today, most chess sets are plastic- and machine-made, but collectors look for sets whose pieces are made of porcelain, glass, stone, ivory, wood, and metal. In some cases, sets are hand-painted as well as hand-carved, making each piece a small work of art. In other cases, the relief on a piece is more functional, such as in sets that include Braille for unsighted players.

Another trend in contemporary chess sets is to use the game as a branding opportunity for entertainment franchises. There are wizarding chess sets based on images and events from the “Harry Potter” books and movies, as well as three-dimensional “Star Trek” chess sets.

If you love chess but aren’t in a position to collect chess sets, you can still marvel at their beautiful artistry. Various museums around the world that have numerous fine chess sets on display. These include the British Museum in London, The International Museum of Chess in Château de Clairvaux France, the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art in Jersusalem, and the Cleveland Public Library.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Chess Museum

Chess Museum

Many chess websites focus on the principles of the game and the tactics and strategies to help you win. Nicholas R.… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Talking Boards

Museum of Talking Boards

Prepare to enter the strange world of Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board game, which captured imaginations en masse… [read review or visit site]

Elliot Avedon Games Museum

Elliot Avedon Games Museum

This in-depth University of Waterloo virtual exhibit showcases vintage games in a variety of categories, from class… [read review or visit site]

Handhelden.com

Handhelden.com

From Tomy to Coleco to Mattel and Nintendo, check out this collection of over 660 handheld and tabletop videogames … [read review or visit site]

Pong Story

Pong Story

David Winter's tribute to early video games, and to Ralph H. Baer, 'inventor of the video game.' Offers a detailed … [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Large Vintage Continental Carved Cow Bone Chess Set CompleteAntique 19th Century Staunton Chess Set + Box - F H Ayres / Bcc / JaquesExtremely Rare & Possibly Unique Vintage Coo-ee Australian Pottery Chess Set Vintage Carved Chinese Cow Bone Chess Set King 3 1/2"Original Midcentury Modern Hermann Ohme Wooden Chess Set Box Minimalist VintageWood Universum Space Age Chess Set Designed Arthur Elliott For Anri, Italy BoxCollectible Antique Chess Set, 33 Wooden Handicraft Chess Pieces.Chess & Sudoku Burl Wood Board Game Set Wooden Pieces Storage - 12 Inch MediumFidelity Master Series 6129 Chess SetHouse Of Staunton Hastings Series Set Of Chess PiecesAntique Victorian Chess Pieces Bord Game Play Figures Full Set Carved Oak WoodVintage Ooak Handmade Metal Chess Set Aluminum Aircraft Parts UniqueIsernia Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" KingThe Modena Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" KingLarge Vintage Carved Wood Sculptural Chess Pieces Set W Home Made Storage BoardAntique English Staunton Chess Set Wood Weighted 19th C 32 P Box Jaques StyleLego Vikings Chess Set G577 Complete With 24 Minfigs & All Pieces Retired SetThe Lucca Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" KingCool Large Chess Set 32 Pieces Nice Detail Vintage Wooden Chess Set With Box Red And Tan Playing Pieces King Queen RookThe Margate Series Chess Set - 4.0" King6" Marble Chess Set Handmade Ebony Gorara Stone Pieces Wooden Box Travel Gifts6" Marble Chess Set Handmade Ebony Gorara Stone Pieces Wooden Box Travel GiftsNottingham 1936 Series House Of Staunton Luxury Wooden Chess Set - 4.4" KingVintage Faux Ivory Cow Bone Chess Set W/ Board Case Intricately Carved 6" Marble Chess Set Handmade Ebony Gorara Stone Pieces Wooden Box Travel GiftsMid 20th Century Wood Universum Space Age Chess Set Anri Italy By Arthur ElliottReykjavik Ii House Of Staunton Chess SetVintage Wood Chess Pieces Chessmen Set &hand-crafted Walnut & Maple Wooden BoardChess Board Set - Aztec Mayan Calendar BoardThe Leningrad Series Chess Set - 4.0" KingDoctor Who Peg People Chess Set Peter Capaldi Dalek Worldwide Shipping Excalibur Electronics Phantom Force Tournament Strength 740delectronic Chess SetVintage Comunist Russia Part Toy Chess Set K 83mm Kolomyika Style + Orig BoardVintage Chinese Japanese Wooden Chess Set Made In JapanVintage Hand Painted Chess Set Bakelite? CompleteVintage Drueke Chess Set, Board, In Original Box "luxury Line Chess" DruekeVintage Wooden Chess Set And Board - C1980sVintage Mid Century Chess Backgammon Set Wood Case Handcarved Pieces 19 X19 Chess Set Classic Games Collectors SeriesDrueke Chess Board/set 15 X 15 1.5" Inch Squares All Wood - RefurbishedVintage 1967 Cavalier Chess Set Tournament Edition Staunton Design Faux MarbleGerman Mickey And Friends Chess Set Complete In Box DuckenburghVintage Drueke Chess Board - Drawer With 32 American Design Patented ChessmemRoman Chess Set Men Vintage 1960s Complete Ancient Style King Beautiful Colored Glass Chess Set Chessboard Mirror In Box New Very FunVintage Well-made Wooden Chess Set Flat Board Solid Inlay 15" X 15"Chess Checkers Backgammon Board Game Set Storage Case Box Pieces Red Book StyleSuper Mario Chess Collector's Edition Nintendo SetVintage Hand Carved Chess Set Wood Box In Excellent Condition Old Medieval Renaissance Middle Ages Chivalry Historic Chess Set Game Dragon BoardVintage 1940's Hand Carved All Wood Chess Set Complete!Peter Ganine Conqueror Chess SetChess Set Vintage 1959 By Ganine Chessette Portable Set No. 825Sterling Silver Stylish Mother Of Pearl & Black Onyx Chess Board Pendant Cool!!!Peanuts Chess Game SetHandmade Wood Chess Board 15x16" With 1 3/4" Squares Thickness 3/4"Star Wars Saga Edition Chess SetVintage Carved Wooden Chess Pieces In Wooden Box 16 Tan And 16 Black Full Set!The Simpsons Chess Set In Collector Tin

Recent News: Chess Sets

Source: Google News

Countdown to Mayweather vs Maidana II: Why Maidana's Mission Could Be ...
EastsideBoxing.com, August 31st

No matter who he had across from him, his mission was to seek and destroy, courtesy of a vintage 'stalk-til-they-can't-walk' style. A higher bid by a 'Cinderella Man' who also happened to be the lineal Champ at the time ... which leads us to the...Read more

Calendar for Aug. 31
Gadsden Times, August 30th

KARAOKE WITH GEORGE AND MARGARET will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. each Sunday at VFW Post 8600. For information, call Margaret Cothran, 256-442-6952. MONDAY | 9.1. ATTALLA LODGE NO. 383 FREE AND ACCEPTED MASONS will meet at 9 ...Read more

Our Doomed Love Affair with Summer
Daily Beast, August 30th

Amazing how quickly a kid's perfect Summer freedom is transformed into an awful scheduled frenzy of lessons in swimming, tennis, chess, music, fooling around with computers, and every other form of recreational activity that's supposed to be fun. The...Read more

What's up Aug. 30, 2014
News-Press Now, August 29th

The event will feature music by The Phil Vandel Band, a 10K and 5K run, children's parade, antique tractor show, magician, children's pedal tractor pull, pie auction, chicken dinner, storyteller, carnival, petting zoo and more. Admission is free. For...Read more

Join the Conversation
Pensacola News Journal, August 29th

Visit www.openbookspcola.org. • Chess Club for Tweens: 10 to 11 a.m. Saturdays in August. The Tryon Branch Library will host Chess Club for Tweens for those wanting to learn how to play chess and improve their moves. Children ages 8 to 14 are welcome...Read more

DAILY CALENDAR
Port Huron Times Herald, August 29th

HPATEEM Antique Antique Tractor Club and Car Show 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Complete schedule: www.algonacartfair.com. .... Port Huron Chess Club, 7 p.m. Open chess play for youth and adults. Chess sets provided. Learn to play or improve your skills...Read more

African Elephants Could Be Extinct In 100 Years
WNYC, August 27th

I know quite a number of private collectors of chess sets which are made from antique ivory. They bought them over the past 50 years from places they visited all over the world. 50 years ago, and even much more recently, even very reputable antiques...Read more

Farmers Market (Photo: TIMES HERALD)
Port Huron Times Herald, August 27th

HPATEEM Antique Antique Tractor Club and Car Show 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Complete schedule: www.algonacartfair.com. Riverfront Park, Algonac. (810) 794-4320. Free. ... Sponsor: Marine City Chamber of Commerce. Port Huron Chess Club, 7 p.m. Open chess...Read more