hist-games: medieval chess pieces

u.schaedler at museedujeu.com u.schaedler at museedujeu.com
Thu Jun 14 07:22:03 PDT 2007

That's correct. Hitherto the only pieces I have ever seen are those in the
painting by van Leyden and the drawing by Jan de Bray for the Liber Amicorum
by Jacobus Heyblock.
Perhaps the Chessmuseum at Ströbeck, where the courier chess has been played
until the 19th century, has some more information: 

Schachmuseum Ströbeck
Director: Angela Matthies
Platz am Schachspiel 97
38822 Schachdorf Ströbeck
Tel.: 039427 / 99850
Fax: 039427 / 96473
E-Mail: schachmuseum at gmx.de



De : hist-games-bounces at www.pbm.com [mailto:hist-games-bounces at www.pbm.com]
De la part de Jon at Gothic Green Oak
Envoyé : jeudi, 14. juin 2007 15:34
À : hist-games at www.pbm.com
Objet : Re: hist-games: medieval chess pieces

Very good point about the lack of chess variant pieces alltogether. However,
and do correct me if I am wrong, but isn't Courier chess a game that became
more popular in Europe (than the other variants) and has lasted longer than
other variants  - so perhaps the pieces may be represented in the
archaeological record, if only by very few examples.
All the best 

----- Original Message ----- 
From: u.schaedler at museedujeu.com 
To: 'Jon at Gothic Green Oak' <mailto:jon at gothicgreenoak.co.uk>  ; 
Sent: Thursday, June 14, 2007 12:57 PM
Subject: RE: hist-games: medieval chess pieces

One should consider that Courier Chess seems to have been played mainly in
Germany and the Netherlands. So one would have to check if among the
medieval finds from these areas there could be some which originally
belonged to the game. Unfortunately there isn't much. And Antje
Kluge-Piinsker's book "Schachspiel und Trictrac. Zeugnisse mittelalterlicher
Spielfreude aus salischer Zeit" ends with the 12th century, so the material
presented by her seems perhaps a little too early, even if the Courier Chess
seems to have existed already at that time.
But the same problem of identification exists for the pieces of arabic chess
variants such as the decimal chess, Tamerlane's chess etc.: Where are all
these Dabbabas, camels etc.?


De : hist-games-bounces at www.pbm.com [mailto:hist-games-bounces at www.pbm.com]
De la part de Jon at Gothic Green Oak
Envoyé : jeudi, 14. juin 2007 10:42
À : hist-games at www.pbm.com
Objet : Re: hist-games: medieval chess pieces

Thanks to both Jim and Ulrich who replied to my message to the list which is
at the end of this message.
I suppose my real question, for which there is most possibly no certain
answer is though the number of chess pieces from the medieval period is
small they are to a certain extent varied, especially those identified as
king and 'queen' and less so for bishop, knight and rook. Courier chess is a
13th C game and has extra pieces that have not been identified. Has anyone
considered that any of the chess or other gaming pieces found from the
period could belong to this game.
The second part of the question is when do the first identifiable courier
chess pieces appear. 
as far as I know, there are no medieval pieces resembling the extra men of
the Courier-Chess around. Literature about pieces for medieval chess
variants is extremely scarce. I have dealt with chess pieces for arabic
medieval chess variants in a paper published in "The Chess Collector" 1,
1998, but it doesn't deal with Courier Chess. 
I'm a collector of historic forms of chess, off in Spokane, Washington in
the US, and so may have some interesting, though less than helpful, info on
this matter.
Although having been played for nigh on 600 years, no Courier chess sets
have survived.  Apparently a wealthy prince donated a set and board to a
chess-crazy town in Germany, but the silver pieces have since been nicked
and only reproductions of some apparently exist in their museum.
Selenius devoted a section to Courier in his chess book, with designs for a
figural set on pillars, rather like the Dieppe style of chess men, but
whether any actual Courier sets looked like that is hard to tell, due to the
lack of preserved sets.
You may be familiar with a painting done around 1500 of two people evidently
playing the game.  Unfortunately even with a magnifier it is hard to say
more than that the set apparently was fairly abstract, with knight horse
pieces, but the rest fairly simple shapes (tiered pieces probably for the
king and queen).  Since so many of the pieces are shown having ben moved or
captured, it is hard to figure out which were what.
All that said, none of the pieces look especially similar to the ancient
shatranj style designs, suggesting different roots for the Courier pieces.
The number of preserved chess sets or even isolated chess men is remarkably
small (less so, for example, even than the preservation of early playing
cards) and so trickier to try to discern trends or influences in designs.
My suspicion is that some chess sets may have been taken over from Courier
ones, but in that case the odds would be that the unneeded pieces would have
been simply discarded.
It is also possible that isolated Courier pieces may have been preserved but
misidentified.  But so far in my study of the available sets and pieces
nothing jumps out as likely here.


This question is about medieval chess men, not the beautiful and elaborately
carved pieces but the symbolic pieces typical of the game in the early
medieval period and their relationship with the early 13th C chess variant
Courier Chess. This has four extra men: the courier (of which there are 2),
the counsellor and the spy, sneak or jester. Have any of the chess pieces of
the medieval period been identified with the additional men from this game?


Also, can anyone lead me to more recent examples of the additional men from
this game? 



If you would like more detailed info, or have further questions or comments,
feel free to post away.


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