hist-games: period chess set construction

Thierry Depaulis thierry.depaulis at freesbee.fr
Sat Nov 4 11:26:41 PST 2000


Michael LaFleur
Chessplayer & SCA newcomer
asked:
>> I have read the archives concerning the history of chess with great
>> interest. I am interested in learning how to construct sets using
>>"period" tools,
>> methods, and materials (and of course, how the tools themselves were made).
>> Has anyone attempted this or know any good places to start?

and Teceangl replied:
>Two books I've found with some information:
>  A. E. J. Mackett-Beeson - _Chessmen_
>  Donald M. Liddell - _Chessmen_
>
>Sorry, no ISBN or publisher data, I got the titles from the local library.
>The first brushes over the creation of chess sets, the second has slightly
>better information.

Here are more complete data  (shame on the local library!):
- Liddell, Donald M. (ed.). Chessmen. New York : Harcourt, Brace & Cy, 1937
(reprint : London, 1976). A wonderful book and a collectors' item!
- Mackett-Beeson, Alfred E.J. Chessmen. London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson,
1968; and London: Octopus, 1973

to which I recommend to add:
- Wichmann, Hans et Siegfried. Schach : Ursprung und Wandlung der
Spielfigur in zwölf Jahrhunderten. Munich : Callwey, 1960. THE reference.
Hopefully for you there is an English edition: Chess : the story of
chesspieces from Antiquity to Modern Times. New York : Crown, 1964.
- Keats, Victor. Chessmen for collectors. London: Batsford, 1985 (American
ed.: The illustrated guide to world chess sets. New York : St. Martin's
Press, 1985)
- Kluge-Pinsker, Antje. Schach und Trictrac : Zeugnisse mittelalterlicher
Spielfreude in salischer Zeit. Sigmaringen : Jan Thorbecke, 1991. A really
real 'period' book (salische Zeit = Frankish period). All SCA should learn
it by heart! (Alas it's in modern High German, not in Middle Frankish...)

but none of these books gives any information on how the pieces were made.
Due to the various materials -- ivory, bone, horn, wood, stone, rock
cristal, bronze, silver, earthenware, etc. etc. -- it is better to refer to
specific books on each craft.

>I suggest some good research into the forms of the chess pieces, too.  It
>pains me in the SCA to see someone hand-turn a chess set using 18th century
>piece forms.

Although the tools may not have changed at all, the shapes did change!
Please don't give us a heart attack!

Thierry Depaulis
Games historian
and not a SCA member
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