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]

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 Complete1950s Chess Set Reputedly Owned By Cary Grant’s Wife, Wooden Hand Carved, UniqueAntique English Chess Set C1860Vintage Mid Century Danish Modern 1960 Eames Era Ohme Chess Set #108 W/ BoardLego Vikings Chess SetJapanese Vintage Kaya Wood Shogi Chess Game Board Rich Aged PatinaChess King Set In A Beautiful Wooden Storage CaseDrueke Chess Set Vintage Lowe Renaissance Chess Board Set #833 Extra Heavily Weighted 4 3/4" KingDoctor Who Peg People Chess Set Peter Capaldi Dalek Worldwide Shipping The Westminster Prestige Series Artisan Chess Set - 4.4" KingEdinburgh Upright Chess Set In Red Sandalwood & Boxwood - 4.4" KingHandmade Collapsible Wooden Chess Set W/ Magnetic PiecesThe Chesterfield Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" KingThe Chess Congress Of 1862 Games Played Board Game Strategy J Lowenthal 1864 HbLego Set G678 Kights Kingdom Chess Set Lego - Complete - Used Good ConditionThe Leningrad Series Chess Set - 4.0" KingThe Arrezo Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" KingNew! Chinese 32 Pieces Chess Set/box/xian Terracota WarriorVintage Chess Set, Chess Pieces!!Vintage Hand Carved Wooden Felted Chess Set With Box And BoardVintage Set Of Carved Wood Chess Pieces In Wooden Box | Made In GermanyNew! Chinese 32 Pieces Chess Set/box/xian Terracota Warrior6"x6" Marble Stone Pieces Chess Set Handmade Ebony Gorara Play & Gifts NewLego Castle Chess Set Perfect Condition Complete Set!!!Vintage Ganine Sculptured Chess Set Gothic In BoxHarry Potter Wizard Chess Set By Mattel!Chess Checkers Backgammon Board Game Set Storage Case Box Pieces Red Book StyleVintage Hand Carved Bone Chinese Chess SetVintage Vietnamese Regence Travelling Miniature Chess Set C1950.Vintage Chess Set White Black Beautiful With Blue Clasp Case !Chess Book Lot Antique Vintage 1st Ed Tournament Game Collections Pieces Board2009 Peyo European Plastoy Smurf Chess Set W/ Original Box! Excellent Condition!Vintage E.s. Lowe Magnetic Staunton Chess Set 1968 Game Box Board # 815 Vintage Wooden Chess Set Travel CaseVintage Chess Set - Wood With Case Made In Western GermanyMystical Knights And Dragons Medieval Chess SetVintage Staunton French Lardy Style Chess Set & Drueke No. 61 Chess BoardStar Wars Saga Edition Chess Set - Collectible Parker Brothers 2004 Complete!Awesome & Remarkable Lego Complete Chess SetLego Vikings Set #g577 Vikings Chess Set - Used South Park Collectors Chess SetLarge Heavy Mayan Aztec Stone Resin Chess Set Fold Up Board Piece StorageOriginal Deutsche Bundesform German Chess Set, Antique Ww2 HaberaWooden Chess Set With Wooden Box/ Board Vintage Carved Wooden Chess Pieces In Wooden Box 16 Tan And 17 Black Full Set!Vintage Wood Set Chess Pieces Green Felt Bottoms Complete W/ Orig BoxDisney Dlr Hidden Mickey 2008 Alice Chess Set Dinah PinVintage Cast Metal Chess Set Romans Vs Vikings Nickel And Bronze Plate W/ BoardLarge, Stunning Italian Chess Set Metal And WoodChess Challange 10 Fidelity Electronics Computer Set With CaseGood Vs. Evil Mystical Chess Set Ceramic BisqueNice Bronze & Silver Metal Chess Set 1970's Avon Vintage Complete Chess Set 32 Piece Full Bottles DecantersSnap On Chess Set Mint Condition Never Used Plastic Removed L@@k!!Circa 1960s Classic Staunton Wood Chess Set Hand Painted Porcelain Chess SetVintage 1962 Sculptured Chess Set By Peter Ganine; Nice No. 1483Mirror Glass Chess & Checkers Set In Wood Frame Case 14" X 14"Dollhouse Accessory: Hand Crafted Chess / Checkers Table With Cased Chess Set

Recent News: Chess Sets

Source: Google News

Parlour master Brad Warton turns out the tapas
Good Food, August 26th

He's pretty relaxed in his domain - the vintage armchairs, leather sofas and pretty peacock-blue decor of Parlour Wine Room. Warton was head chef .... "You see some relationships where the kids are chess pieces and it's disgusting. I suppose they put...Read more

Join the Conversation
Port Huron Times Herald, August 25th

HPATEEM Antique Antique Tractor Club and Car Show 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Complete schedule: .... 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

Regular clubs and events in Livingston County
Livingston Daily, August 25th

Chess club — Livingston County Chess Club meets 6-9:45 p.m. Mondays at Barnes and Noble, 9605 Green Oak Place in Green Oak Township. Players of all ages and experience .... Free appraisals of glassware and antique items. Call (248) 673-1650 or see ...Read more

Evanston's Elisabeth Kalmar's 60+ years in North Shore couture
Glencoe News, August 25th

Kalmar stitched on a Pfaff sewing machine, replacing it later with an antique Singer. She sewed fancy silk opera gowns, ... A regal wine-colored costume for a woman playing “the queen” in a live, human chess match. The gown was based on a photo of ...Read more

Long Beach's Art Deco Festival celebrates the era with an even bigger event ...
Long Beach Press-Telegram, August 25th

On just about any other occasion, when Frank Cooper, 66, and his wife Suzanne, 62, walk through the Queen Mary dressed in their vintage 1930s attire, they could be mistaken for the ghosts of passengers who sailed on the ship during its heyday long ago...Read more

Port Huron Times Herald, August 24th

HPATEEM Antique Antique Tractor Club and Car Show 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Complete schedule: Riverfront Park, Algonac. (810) 794-4320. Free. Fenian Raid 2014: 2-4 p.m. Aug. 30 and 31. Have a “Comfortable Cup of Tea” whilst ...Read more

Homemade game boards can sell for thousands of dollars
Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 23rd

King Features Syndicate Homemade antique games and even game parts sell for surprising prices today. This 18-inch-square Parcheesi board is painted on ... Not all game boards are for checkers or chess. Our ancestors played Parcheesi, backgammon and ...Read more

NYC reveals 5 treasures off the beaten path
Florida Today, August 22nd

The East Harlem location of Demolition Depot boasts four floors and a backyard garden full of salvaged antique architectural fixtures rescued from fate in a landfill. Are you looking for an original Art Deco lamp? A gilded fireplace mantel that once...Read more