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American Boxed Games and Their Makers, 1822-1992
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LATEST ARTICLE_______________________________________

Checkmate
by Bob Brooke

 

Chess is a wonderful game of intelligence and strategy. The beauty of this game is that any person, who has the understanding of this game and its moves, can play with any other person regarding his/her age. The game is universal and crossed national boundaries and cultures.



Chess is a game of imagination, strategy, and patience. Believe to have originated in 6th-century in India, the game is now played around the world. Back then, players 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 moved into Persia, players added a wise man, which would later become the queen.



The game soon spread from Persia to Arab nations, when the Arabs defeated the Persians in the 7th century. With the takeover chess passed into the Arab world. And since the Arabs had strict Muslim beliefs that prohibited them from creating images of living things, chess pieces became more abstract. Today, abstract design versus realistic representation is a major differentiator between collectible chess sets.
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 time came in all shapes and sizes. Many depicted 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.

During the 19th century, nobles and aristocrats found games like wrestling and animal fighting below their dignity, so they indulged in playing chess.

Chess is also one of the most popular games in the Soviet Union. Most of the world chess champions have been citizens of the Soviet Union. From 1993 to 2000 the world chess champions were almost all Russians. Chess has also been a central feature of Russian history and culture from the Middle Ages onwards, resulting in a great variety of chess sets from various times and zones. In fact, Czar Nicholas first bestowed the title of chess grandmaster in 1914.

Chess Set Materials
Many collectible chess sets come in different materials, including bone, metal, and marble. None of these are as collectible as those made of wood.

Dortan, Oyonnax, in the French Jura was the home of the famous French chess piece manufacturer “Lardy.” It was the only company to revolutionize the chess set industry with their excellent chess set quality at affordable prices. The Lardy Company used Jura boxwood for their pieces, but it also used maple and softwoods. Serious chess players admire the traditional Staunton look for regular chess play.



In 1849, Nathaniel Cooke designed the Staunton chess set, named for English chess master Howard Staunton. The sports and games equipment company Jaques of London distributed these highly collected sets.



Jaques produced Staunton sets in both ivory and wood. The pieces came in various sizes, with the most common sets having a 3 ˝-inch-tall king. While it’s 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 to distinguish them from those on the queen side. Some of the kings also have an inscription reading “J. Jaques, London” on their bases.

Staunton chess sets had semi-abstract pieces, though with ample differentiation between them. In the years prior 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.

The most popular American Staunton Pattern chessmen is the Liberty chess set, first manufactured by W.T Pinney in 1941. For nearly two decades, chess players used this chess set in all major chess club tournaments held in the U.S. The most interesting thing in this chess set was that the manufacturer W.T Pinney was so confident of the ruggedness of the design that he offered a lifetime warranty on it.

As the game of chess gained popularity, the chess pieces also underwent a lot of changes in design and material. Manufacturers began producing them in different designs and materials depending upon the social, economic and political situation of the region in which the game was to be played.

This led to different variants of chess design being used all over the world. In India and China where dexterous artisans and elephant ivory were available in abundance, the chess pieces were made in ivory. The kings and princes took pride in getting made the chess pieces in ivory procured from the elephants hunted down by them.

European and Middle Eastern chess sets were usually made of wood, decorated with fine carvings. In Africa, chess piece makers used ebony and ivory because of their easy availability. Industrialization in the mid 19th century led to bulk production of standardized wooden chess sets in the United Kingdom.

Collecting Chess Sets
The great thing about collecting chess sets is that they don’t expire. The chess set purchased today can be preserved for generations to come. Wooden chess sets first appeared in the 18th century, and they have been collected since the 19th century.
Some of the best-preserved chess sets go for thousands of dollars at auction.

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.



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