Chess Collectors International
Vol. 2011 Issue 1

Coverage of the CCI Meeting in St. Louis Letter(s) to the Editor The Chess Auction Catalog Project Thomas Frere and the Brotherhood of Chess Chess Sets of U.S. Companies The Game Of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen From The Isle Of Lewis

Since this was the very first CCI Meeting I have ever attended, I feel more than just a little inadequate in my attempt to write a summary of the meeting. What should I include, what should I leave out. Will I cover a subject well enough, will I cover it too much…. well, you get the picture. On a personal level, I was looking forward to the meeting with a lot of excitement and unsure expectation, but I was also looking forward to it with at least an equal amount of trepidation, as I had been asked to make a presentation at the meeting. What kind of idiot agrees to give a presentation at a meeting he has never attended? Don’t answer that. To be honest, about all I associated with the Midwest prior to my visit was humidity, heat and tornadoes, none of which sounded particularly enjoyable. It was cold and rainy the Friday we arrived, but before the weekend was over the weather was almost perfect (for me, anyway): sunny and mild. I was most impressed with St. Louis itself, at least the parts I saw, the neighborhoods around our hotel consisted of beautiful vintage homes showing wide ranges of style and beauty. The street just to the north of the hotel was quite a surprise when it became very much alive on Friday and Saturday nights. It evidently is one

of the hot spots of the city, supporting a very vibrant and exciting nightlife, something I was not at all that unhappy in discovering. Since the new World Chess Hall of Fame is located on this very same street, it can’t help but reflect some of the same energy and excitement. An excellent site selection for the Museum indeed. The hotel itself left us (my wife and I) very disappointed. Service was lousy and the food, for the most part, mediocre. From what others have said, however, their experience was evidently different from ours so, hopefully, we were the exception. Food quality aside, the social dinner on Friday night got us off to a nice start. My wife and I sat opposite Rick Knowlton and George and Vivian Dean, with whom we had some enjoyable conversations. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming and we very much enjoyed ourselves. I went to bed that night highly anticipating the next day. The meeting Saturday did not disappoint.

Doesn’t Look Like Much For Breakfast! In truth: Attendees Begin Arriving for The Saturday Morning Session of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting


2 Jon Crumiller’s second presentation, again a highlight of the meeting, was nothing short of pure candy for chess collectors. His collection is truly of museum quality. As much as I would have liked to recreate his collection presentation in this newsletter, there is no way I could do so within this space and print and truly do it justice. Jon’s presentation of his Chess Auction database comes later in this newsletter so be sure to note the website address given where one can see his chess collection in all its splendor – if you have not already done so.

Sorry, no Checkers Collectors Allowed! In truth: Floyd Sarisohn Welcomes All to the Opening of the 2011 St Louis CCI Meeting.*

First to present was John Crumiller. (Believe me when I say both of his presentations were major highlights of the meeting.) Jon has developed an auction database, pieced together from various auction catalogs, auction price sheets and other sources, from over at least the last forty years, which he has generously made available to CCI members. The massive amount of effort it must have taken to put this major work together is truly mind-staggering.
Martin Frere Hillyer Introduces Us To His Great-GreatGrandfather, Thomas Frere.*

Does The Hand Puppet Look Like a Rabbit? In Truth: We Get Our First Look At The Awesome Chess Auction Database Put Together By Jon Crumiller.*

A presentation on a subject totally new to me was that of Martin Frere Hillyer’s Thomas Frere and the Brotherhood of Chess. Apparently, Thomas Frere was one of the founders of the original Manhattan Chess Club and Martin Frere Hillyer is his great-greatgrandson. Martin had on display one of Thomas Frere’s original chessboards and chess sets. It was a fascinating presentation – how could it not be, it touched on several subjects of particular interest (to me, anyway) - history, chess and genealogy. Martin Frere Hillyer has written a book on Thomas Frere and The Brotherhood of Chess. Unfortunately, being already tapped out by the trip to St. Louis

*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of



itself, I had to save obtaining a copy of the and other environmental concerns. I, for one, book for the future. left for the museum tour with much greater appreciation of what was involved in the Before leaving for a tour of the newly opened creation of the exhibit, as well as a greater World Chess Museum, we were treated to a appreciation, in general, for all public exhibits history of how the George Dean Chess put on by museums of any kind. Definitely not Collection and Chess Collectors International an easy task! both came to be, by founder Dr. George Dean himself. Plus, Dr. Dean has published a book entitled, Chess Masterpieces, One Thousand Years of Extraordinary Chess Sets that was available for sale at the meeting and at the chess museum – thereby adding another addition to my (hopeful) list of future acquisitions. If you can’t make it to see the exhibit at the Chess Museum before it is over, the book could well be the next best thing to being there.

Larry List Explains What Was Involved in Creating the Exhibit of the George Dean Chess Collection*

It was now time to tour the World Chess Hall of Fame (Museum).

Floyd Finally Gets His Hands On, And Makes His Escape With, One Of Dr. Dean’s Prized Chess Sets. In truth: George Dean Expounds Upon How The Dean Collection and the CCI Came Into Being. Both fascinating histories in their own right.*

After Dr. Dean spoke, Larry List, the curator responsible for designing the George Dean Exhibit, gave an absorbing synopsis of what was involved in designing an exhibit that would not only present the sets to their best advantage but also provide the sets with the necessary protection from sunlight, humidity

How does one even try to describe the feast for the eyes we now beheld? Certainly not with words. Following is a montage of but a small part of the museum’s permanent displays as well of the George Dean Collection.*

*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of



*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of



*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of



*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of

THE CCI-USA NEWS Having enjoyed such a feast for the eyes at the chess museum before lunch, yet another feast for the eyes awaited us after lunch, as we settled in to watch Jon Crumiller show us many of the beautiful sets in his collection.

7 interest in chess. Lynn has since re-interviewed many of those original young players and produced a follow up video containing the new interviews. The two videos are now available on DVD. Rick Knowlton was the other presenter to be fitted into the program at the last minute. Along with a quick summary of who he is and what he does (, he also demonstrated a chess invention made by his father. To quote Rick, “From my Dad, something a little different: Chess Through the Looking Glass. A novel invention that allows you to play out a chess game, and see it from the opposite perspective in the mirror view. Notice the demonstration (below) where White has played P-K4 (e4) and Black is replying PQB3 (e6) – but in the mirror world Black has begun with P-K4 (e5) and White is responding P-QB3 (e3). The pieces and even the squares of the chessboard change color in the mirror view. A real mind-bender and perspective enhancer, teaching the player to see both sides at once as never before.”

Man, I Wish That Set Were Mine! Oh Wait, It Is!!! In truth: Just One Of The Many Beautiful Sets Jon Crumiller Showed Us From His Fantastic Collection!*

Lynn Hamrich Introduces Us To Her Videos On Chess Kids. A Very Welcome Addition to the CCI Meeting.*

Lynn Hamrich, who produced a video many Demonstration Of The Chess Invention Made By The years ago called “Chess Kids”, gave one of two Father Of Rick Knowlton.* last minute presentations fitted into the program. Centered on the 1990 Youth Chess Now it was time for my presentation. Championship, it contained interviews of Something I had been highly anticipating – and several of the young players and their keen fearing – both at the same time. My biggest
*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of

THE CCI-USA NEWS concern was time. I had received several photographs from the Smithsonian Institution I was eager to share with the audience, but was unsure as to how much time they might carve out of my presentation. At the last minute, fearful of their taking too much time, I dropped most of the personal and anecdotal stories I had originally included in my presentation. Unfortunately, I found my fears were unfounded but by then it was too late. So, in atonement for my error, the excluded information is included in the printed form of my presentation later in this newsletter. Thankfully, the presentation and, even more importantly, the publication, seemed well received or, as I seem to remember Jon Crumiller saying, “…he was enthralled reading the publication the night before…” or words to that effect. Thank you Jon.

8 That pretty much concluded the Presentations for the day, the meeting adjourned, many of the attendees hung around visiting for a while and then scattered to get ready for the “Awards” Dinner later that night. And what meeting is complete without one of those? In addition to thanking everyone who made the meeting that weekend not only possible, but also a total success, very special awards were given out to a very deserving couple, Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, who made the existence of the Chess Museum in St. Louis possible. Not only did the Sinquefields provide the original funding for the founding of The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, the Sinquefields also donated the funds necessary for buying, renovating and setting up the Chess Museum, as well as making available the funds needed for moving all the chess sets and materials from the Museum’s original site in Florida to its new site in St. Louis. It only seems fitting to say Thank You once more to Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield for all they have done, not only in St. Louis, but for the chess world as a whole, by making it possible for the new Chess Hall of Fame to exist for all to enjoy for a long time to come.

Copies of publication are available from Floyd Sarisohn for $5.00 +shipping to help cover the cost of printing.

Rex And Jeanne Sinquefield Receive Well-Deserved Awards*

*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of




Early View Of St. Louis For Many Of The Attendees Arriving For The 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting

Oh Please Don’t Come Over Here To Sit! Please, Please No! Please, Not Over . . . . . .

Someone Should Tell Him How Bad That Joke Really Was!

Uh, Excuse Me Mr. Speaker, But . . . .

OK, We Got Our Awards, Now Go Home!

Just Joking!

*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of



Just Couldn’t Resist!

Lessee Now, Am I Playing White Or Am I Playing Black?

Now This Little Bugger . . . .

Did You See The Set That Got Away!!?? I Think She Took It.

The Wares Are Spread!

If He Buys One More Chess Set . . . .

*Photos of the 2011 St. Louis CCI Meeting are courtesy of Rick Knowlton of



In these difficult times, many collectors who are picking up affordable sets might be tempted to go for Bakelite. However genuine early plastic chessmen can be just that little bit more expensive, so accuracy of description is desirable. In the past couple of years I have seen some CCI members who are selling on occasion Plastic sets, have descriptions that are the complete opposite of my own examples of the very sets they are selling. In short, my public Picasa site is in conflict with their claims. Also I am not alone as there are two other visible sites on Picasa for public viewing, which offer a host of collectible sets in Plastic - The albums of Duncan Pohl, and Corptaxman Mtaxcons. What I have found interesting is that when viewing these sets for sale, I offered confirmation of my already published opinion to the fellow CCI members that their research was questionable, and these collectors conceded almost immediately. So we have a situation where fellow chess collectors are on a collision course over researched material. What is a new collector supposed to do if he or she sees such differing views? Well, there may be an easy answer to this potential problem:CCI members who do decide to sell Plastic sets could do worse than offer the buyer the source of the information to justify their claims, and in addition offer a view on how the set for sale was made. Is the set turned or cast, as such information is of great benefit to the collector . To offer a description like 'probably Bakelite', when they don't know, nor even appear to care about researching in any detail, is more and more likely to be to their disadvantage as time goes on. A typical 21st century research effort = Google then a 5 second cut and paste job (according to Oxford dictionary) - it is just plastic. Bakelite, defined as ".. the trade name for phenol-formaldehyde or phenolic resins, was the first totally synthetic plastic and was patented by Dr Leo Baekeland in 1907 ..." This is the type of reply one might expect from a seller who simply wants to off load a set of chessmen. Surely CCI members selling chess sets to fellow collectors can do better than that? Up until 2011 there was scant little offered on Plastic chessmen, but on Picasa there has been some serious activity in the past few years, and for the most part agreement between collectors. Now with the recent book by Duncan Pohl Chess Sets of United States Companies - a CCI member -, these sets are at last on the map. Call this open letter an appeal, as we don't need a 21st century riddled with the published errors of chessmen that are a lot less difficult to research than the collectibles of the 19th and earlier centuries. Why on earth make up a description, and risk having collectors in private pour scorn on it, as it gives the impression a " few extra bucks" is all that matters? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx end of appeal. Cheers Guy







The Chess Auction Catalog Project
Here are some other types of questions that you may have asked yourself.
• Haven’t I seen this same Napoleon-themed carved wooden set somewhere before? • Have the so-called “Spanish” Pulpit sets risen in value? What’s their overall trend? What about other types of sets? • What are the relative price ranges of Jaques ivory sets – 11cm, 10cm, 9cm, 8cm? • A chess set by John Calvert, the Victorian chess manufacturer and retailer, is up for auction. How rare or common is this style of Calvert set? How many have been sold in the past? • I know I’ve seen another set with that same type of bishop, but where and when? • I’m thinking of bidding on a set. Has this particular set ever shown up in prior auctions? • These Chinese sets are usually stained red, not green. Are there other green Chinese sets? • I’m sure I’ve seen an unusual ivory Soviet Propaganda set before – but not the usual porcelain. It was definitely ivory. Where and when did I see it?













the first primers on chess in America. He codified the rules for modern chess on which tournament play to this day has a basis and in the process wrote at least three important books on chess: Hoyle’s Games 1856, The Family Entertainment System Frere’s Chess Hand-Book 1859 – the early primer mentioned above, and Morphy’s Games of Chess and Frere’s Problem Tournament 1859 On November 3, 1892 Walter Frere, Thomas’ son, won a match at the Brooklyn Chess Club against a gentleman by the name of R. F. Bradford. He was awarded The Modern Chess Instructor by William Steinitz, presented by the President of the Manhattan Chess Club, Charles A. Gilberg. The next day Walter’s father, Thomas Frere gave him his chessboard and chessmen, referred to by Walter as the “Sixth American Congress chess-men”.

Thomas Frere

When seven years old, Thomas Frere attended a demonstration of the automaton, The Turk, at Tammany Hall in 1827. In a speech at the Fifth American Chess Congress, Thomas said this was when he first became interested in chess. He was to become a major organizer behind American chess. Not only was he one of the original founders of both the Brooklyn Chess Club and the Manhattan Chess Club (he was one of the ‘original eight’) he also organized and hosted the first official World Championship (Steinitz-Zuckertort 1886) as well having a major role behind the First American Chess Congress, and wrote one of

THOMAS FRERE But this wasn’t just any chessboard. This particular chessboard already had quite the history. In fact, the January 8 1886 The New York Times, in an article on the chess board entitled A Chess Board with a History said, “Large placards, hung conspicuously around the rooms of the Manhattan chess Club yesterday, announced that the great chess game between W. H. Zukertort and William Stenitz will be commenced in Cartier’s Hall, No. 80 Fifth-avenue, on Monday, and will continue on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in the afternoon from 2 to 6 and in the evening from 8 to 12, through the month. The board that will be used is owned by Thomas Frere, and has been used by Morphy, Paulsen, Lichtenhein, Roberts, Marache, and many other noted players of a quarter of a century ago.” Paul Morphy used the board during the First American Chess Congress in the match with Paulsen. They actually used it for the first five games. Along with a 100+ year diary, through which Martin became familiar with his great-greatgrandfather, Thomas Frere, the board and chess set were also passed down through Frere’s family until it came into the possession of Martin Frere Hillyer. Both the chessboard and chess set (right) were on display all day Sunday, September 11, 2011 at the Chess Fair held at the CCI St. Louis Meeting.




It is hard to imagine something that started on November 15, 2007 has brought me here to this spot at this time. On that day I was browsing ebay, as so many of us often do, when I noticed a new group had been formed – for Chess Collectors. Intrigued, I stopped short, I had always liked chess sets, always stopped and checked out any I happened to see on display, but I couldn’t say I had ever really thought of collecting them. Anyway, the upshot of it all is that I joined. And started a whole new strange and mysterious journey, filled with all these strange new names like Jaques, Lund, Calvert, and several more. But I soon realized I faced two major obstacles to chess collecting. The first one was Geography: all these names were of old companies in an Old World who had made most of these sets a long, long time ago, whereas I live halfway around the globe, in a New World, in a new time. The second obstacle I faced was economics: I am just a poor working stiff who, like so many right now, is finding it ever harder to make a living from day to day. Given that, chances were I would never see one of these sets in person and second, if I did, I would never be able to afford it. I was going to have some pretty empty shelves if this was where I decided to focus any kind of chess collecting. So What Was I Going To Collect? I really don’t think I could have told you the answer to that question, but I did decide that I should at least replace the first and only set I ever owned- the ubiquitous Lowe Renaissance set. I had bought it as a preteen and had it long enough that I used it to teach my children how to play the game. But, being boys, my sons soon sacrificed the pieces to the god of toys and they were now long gone. So I set out to replace it and quickly did so on ebay. Then, I decided, if I was going to replace the original set I had owned, then I may as well finally get the set I had really wanted at the time, a very geometric, octagonal set I had seen and very much liked. At the time, I had only seen it in a small size, about a 2 ½” King, when I wanted a full size tournament set. Hence, I had ended up with the Renaissance. Now I decided to once again look for that set in a larger size. Starting out, I didn’t even know who was the maker or what the set was called. But I soon discovered it was called the American Design, was made by a company called Drueke, and that the one small sized set I had seen was the largest size in which it had ever been available. But while doing this search I started seeing the names of other unfamiliar - to me - American manufacturers, such as Gallant Knight, Horn, Pleasantime, etc. I knew virtually nothing about these companies and neither, it seemed, did anyone else. All of this new, previously unknown, information made me start toying with the idea of developing a list of American companies and the sets they made. At least that way, if I ran across a set in a thrift store, garage sale, antique store, whatever, I would have an idea of what I was looking at, how rare it might be and whether the asking price was a bargain, a fair price, or way out of reality. How Was The List Developed? I already mentioned being on ebay. But now, every time I saw a set from an American company come up for sale there, I captured all the information found in the seller’s description and dropped it into a document. I also captured any accompanying pictures of the set and dropped them into a file. Then I would do a search for that particular company on the

CHESS SETS OF U.S. COMPANIES by DUNCAN POHL internet, looking for old catalogs, ads, articles, anything that might provide another tidbit of information in regard to the chess set or its manufacturer. I also contacted any of the companies I discovered were still in business, although most of them answered with deafening silence. The few that did respond, however, were of great help. While doing these searches I made a couple of significant discoveries. One was a catalog put out by the American Game and Puzzles Collectors in 1998. This catalog not only listed every American company ever known by the association to have made games, it also listed every game the association knew had been made by each company. I went through that catalog line-by-line, company-bycompany, game-by-game, pulling the name of every company that listed chess as one of the games they produced. Then I pulled any information the catalog had on the company, such as addresses, etc. and, again, dropped it into my ever-growing file. And, once more, I would do an internet search on the company and pull all the information I could find for them. My second significant discovery was when I found the United States Chess Federation had available for sale a 4 CD set of all the Chess Review, Chess Life and Chess Life and Review magazines published from 1933 through 1969, plus a few years into the early 70s. I bought the set and, like the catalog, went through it page by page by page by . . . . (you get the picture). Once more, I pulled any ads, articles, pictures - any information at all that shed more light on any particular set or company. It didn’t take me long to realize I was going to have to start organizing the information and pictures now residing in my file into some kind of semblance of order, and thus was started the first rough draft of my list.


What Did I Find? For the most part, I’ll let you read that for yourself. But I will give a couple of small teasers. First, on page 21, is an ad from Gallant Knight stating the plastic used for their sets was Tenite, a plastic that was a staple of the industry then and is still a staple of the industry today. Drueke also advertised Tenite as being the plastic the company used for their sets. Another interesting discovery can be found on page 38 regarding the Ganine Gothic set. In the bottom right corner is the cover picture from the August 1956 Chess Review with the cover story appearing to the left where it states the sets were made of Melamine. Incidentally, that same August 1956 issue of Chess Review is the one in which Bobby Fischer made his first appearance. There were other discoveries, such as the fascinating account regarding the Holum and Sons Company. While three Holum brothers worked together making travel sets for the soldiers overseas, the fourth brother was conducting bombing missions over Germany. He then came home after the war and joined his brothers in running the company. Another notable discovery was an ad I found for a set made in Alaska of walrus ivory. It seems the owner of the company was an enterprising Eskimo (as the set was advertised at the time) who had no compunction about putting his fellow tribesman to work for a paltry wage in poor working conditions to turn out souvenirs for his retail shop. In an interesting little twist, the CCI can claim what I figure to be about a Third Degree of Separation from some of the information in this publication. Many of you know John Mazzucco, a CCI member from Vermont. He had a long time friend and chess partner in his small town of Randolph by the name of Ernie, until Ernie passed away in November 2009.

THE CCI-USA NEWS Turns out John’s friend Ernie was the Ernest Wright whose chess set design is featured on page 53 of my publication. It is amazing, sometimes, just how small this world can really be.


Smithsonian must have some kind of filing system, because within just a few hours I had an answer back with a couple of sample pictures (referred to earlier) asking if this was the set about which I was inquiring. It was! I asked if they would be willing to measure the But what I consider my Piece de Resistance – pieces for me. They were. is based on the Gift of State Chess Set President Nixon gave to Russia on his state Therefore, according to the Smithsonian, the visit in May 1972. Cybis Porcelain of New measurements for the set are as follows: Jersey made the set. On page 14 can be seen a King: 6 15/16” Queen: 6 9/16” couple of sample pictures of the set provided Bishop: 6 ½” Knight: 6 ¾” by the National Museum of American History Rook: 6” Pawn: 6 1/16” of the Smithsonian Institution. Unlike the green and blue colors so often seen on this set, (The Smithsonian also volunteered and took a such as on the Elizabeth Gann website, the number of pictures of the set in various poses, original article that appeared on the set in the along with the original board and storage box, April 1973 Chess Review and Life stated the custom made to accompany the chess set to its colors chosen for the original sets were destination. But, while those pictures were Turquoise and Burgundy. I also found an shown the group at the CCI Meeting, the original wire photo released in May 1972 when printing of those pictures is being saved for Nixon made the actual presentation of the set what is hoped to be an upcoming future article to Russia. The caption accompanying the next spring on the Gift of State Chess Set, to picture also states the colors used were mark the 40th anniversary of its presentation to Turquoise and Burgundy. By the way, that Russia.) wire photo is now in my possession. That pretty well sums up how it is this All of this made me curious. While I couldn’t publication, Chess Sets of American pin down which Russian museum now has the Companies; Anyone Ready for Chess Tenite? set, the article stated a second set was also came to be. It is not a finished product by any made and presented to the Smithsonian means, there is still so much more to learn Institution. So I contacted the Smithsonian and about the sets found in this publication as well asked if anyone there might know anything as many additional companies and sets I have about the set or its whereabouts. The no doubt are still waiting to be discovered.



THE GAME OF KINGS: MEDIEVAL IVORY CHESSMEN FROM THE ISLE OF LEWIS The Lewis Chessmen at the Cloisters Are a Once in a Lifetime Encounter
Larry List ©2011

Fig.1. The high-vaulted Romanesque Hall at the Cloisters provides an ideal setting for this exhibition of the Lewis Chessmen. Photo: Annmarie Fertoli/WNYC.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters were acquired by the National Museum of a once-in-a-lifetime experience awaits anyone Scotland, in Edinburgh. interested in the history of chess and chess sets, Medieval history, or beautifully carved, intimately scaled figurative sculpture. For the first time ever, there is a display of thirty-four of the eighty-two renowned Lewis Chessmen, on loan from the British Museum, London, until April 22, 2012. These chess pieces, carved from walrus tusks, sometimes referred to as “morse ivory,” and comprising four incomplete sets, were found in a sand bank on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in 1831. Passing through various hands, eighty-two of the pieces, including a carved Fig.2. The exhibition has been or organized by Barbara Drake Boehm, the Curator of Medieval Art at the Cloisters, in ivory belt buckle and fourteen plain draughts- conjunction with James Robinson, Curator of Late Medieval men, eventually came to reside in British Collections at the British Museum. Photo: Annmarie Museum while the other eleven chess pieces Fertoli/WNYC.

THE CCI-USA NEWS The “Lewis Hoard” provides the earliest, largest, and most robust ensemble of works made at a turning point in chess history. In these pieces, European craftsmen re-introduced elements of figuration in chess pieces and composed a set almost solely of icons of European society. No longer the minimal Islamic abstractions that had introduced Europeans to the game, nor ornate figurative Indian armies of the game’s origins, this was the earliest known ensemble to include both Bishops, instead of Elephants, and the Queen, in place of the previous male advisor/vizier. The introduction of Bishops and Queens moved the game considerably closer to the form of chess sets and chess play now known the world over.


Fig.4. Two Queens. The British Museum, London (1831, 1101.84, .88) and…

Fig.5. Three Bishops. The British Museum, London (1831, 1101.90, 93, .98) ca. 1150–1200. Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. Photos: Annmarie Fertoli/WNYC

Fig.3. Bishop, pawns & Kings displayed in a famous endgame. Photo: Karsten Moran for The New York Times.

At the center of the Cloisters’ Romanesque Hall, a “famous modern” endgame with seven pawns, one Bishop, and two Kings is presented in a vitrine on a simple black and white board. The other Lewis pieces, as if already lost in play, are displayed in the hall in similar vitrines forming the four corners of a large square. The display of small groups against plain backgrounds in multiple vitrines allows viewers to examine each piece closely from all angles.

Fig.6. Four Knights. The British Museum, London ca. 1150– 1200. Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. The British Museum, London (1831, 1101.102, .103, .114,.115)Photo: Annmarie Fertoli/WNYC


27 tusks and rare, related Medieval and Islamic pieces from the museum’s vast collection offer depth and historical context.

Fig.7. Eleven Pawns and a Belt Buckle. ca. 1150–1200. Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. The British Museum, London (1831, 1101.126, .127, .129 .141, .143 - .145). Photo: Annmarie Fertoli/WNYC

Fig.9. Pair of Walrus Tusks. ca. 1900. On loan from the American Museum of Natural History. New York. (77938) Photo:Annmarie Fertoli/WNYC

Fig.8. Four Warders. ca. 1150–1200. Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. The The British Museum, London (1831, 1101.119, .121, .122, .124). Photo:Annmarie Fertoli/WNYC

Fig.10. Islamic Chess Piece Vitrine. Clockwise from top right: Chess Piece. Elephant ivory. Western Islamic Islands, possibly Sicily. 1st half of 12th C. Gift of Alstair B. Martin. (49.36); Chess Piece. Rock crystal. Fatimid, Egypt. 10th – 11th C. Pfeiffer Fund, 1972 (1972.9.28); Knight Chess Piece. Jet. Probably Islamic Spain. 8th – 10th C. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Jerome Straka, 1974 (11974.27.2); Chess Piece. Elephant ivory. Fatimid, Egypt. 1021 – 35. Pfeiffer Fund, 1947(47.68); Elephant Chess Piece. Elephant ivory. Western Islamic Islands. 7th – 8th C. Pfeiffer Fund, 1964 (64.262.1) Photo: Annmarie Fertoli/WNYC

The thin-walled walrus tusks from which the pieces were hewn helped determine their compact, self-contained bullet-like shapes and Wall texts explain the pieces’ origins and the the shallow, expertly controlled depth of evolving game of chess to visitors while carving. As pieces from four incomplete sets outlying vitrines with examples of real walrus they offer themes and variations to study. The

THE CCI-USA NEWS consistent carving style that is more caricature than objective realism has been shared by multiple carvers to depict faces and clothing. However, the carvers were given free rein to create elaborate decorative motifs, each one unique, on the backs and sides of the Kings,’ Queens,’ and Bishops’ thrones. Despite the restrictive stylistic and carving parameters, the simplified facial details suggest a range of emotions. The uniformly large, forward-staring eyes of all the pieces establish an intense connection with viewers. Squat, impassive figures, ranging from 2 ¾ to 4 inches in height, the Lewis Chessmen seem more monumental than miniature because of their carefully calibrated proportions and masses.


Fig.12 a & b. Chess Piece in the Form of a King. Front & back. ca. 1150–1200. Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. H. 4 1/16 in. (10.3 cm). The British Museum, London (1831, 1101.78). Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

Fig.11. Related Medieval Chess Piece Vitrine. Clockwise from top right: Coffret with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Elephant ivory. French, Paris. Mid –1300’s. Gift of George Blumenthal, 1941 (41.100.159); Knight Chess Piece. Elephant ivory. Western European, possibly German or England. About 1510 – 1530. Pfeiffer Fund, 1968 (68.183); Knight Chess Piece. Walrus ivory. English, probably London. About 1250. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.231); Bishop Chess Piece. Walrus ivory. Scandinavian, probably Trondheim, Norway. About 1150 – 1200. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.229); Knight Chess Piece. Elephant ivory. Western European, possibly England. About 1350 – 60. Pfeiffer Fund, 1968 (68.95); Knight Chess Piece. Elephant ivory, with traces of red paint. Netherlandish. ca. 1500. Pfeiffer Fund, 1984 (1984.214); Leaf of a Writing Tablet. Elephant ivory. French, Paris. Mid-1300s. Gift of Ann Payne Blumenthal. 1938 (38.108). Photo by Larry List, New York

Fig.13a. Chess Piece in the Form of a Queen, H. 3 3/4 in. (9.6 cm). (1831, 1101.84) & Fig.13b. Chess Piece in the Form of a Bishop, H. 3 5/16 in. (8.4 cm). (1831, 1101.93). Both ca. 1150–1200. Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides Scotland. Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. The British Museum, London. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

All of the Kings and the newly-introduced Queens are firmly enthroned. The Kings look magisterial, each holding a sword at the ready across his lap while the Queens, each with a hand held to her cheek, at turns look very

THE GAME OF KINGS by LARRY LIST expectant, shocked, concerned, or deeply contemplative. Some newly-included Bishops are seated while others stand. These are the earliest known portrayals of bishops’ full ecclesiastical garb, complete with spiralhooked western style crosiers and doublepointed mitres as headgear.

29 position and role in the game. Those portrayed biting their shields are thought to be “berserkers” – legendary Norse warriors who worked themselves into violent frenzies before battle (possibly assisted by drugs). Made as heraldry was developing, each shield bears a unique inscribed design. As European pieces evolved further, the Warder/foot soldiers were demoted to serve as the pawns when formidable castle towers or fast, agile sailboats supplanted their role of Rooks.

Fig.14. Chess Piece in the Form of a Knight, ca. 1150– 1200. Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. H. 2 7/8 in. (7.3 cm). The British Museum, London (1831,1101.102). Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

Mounted on small, stylized, thick-limbed ponies, the Knights are the most thoroughly realized in-the-round, with helmets, shields and spears. The forward arcs from the ponies’ behinds, up and across their necks to their heads are the only dynamic, diagonal lines in all of the pieces. Unique to the Lewis hoard, a variety of Warders - robed, helmeted foot soldiers, each with a shield and sword – occupy the Rooks’

Fig.15. Chess Piece in the Form of a Berserker, ca. 1150–1200. Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. H. 3 3/8 in. (8.5 cm). The British Museum, London (1831,1101.102). Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

THE CCI-USA NEWS The controversy over whether the pieces were crafted in Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, Ireland, England or Norway kept the chessmen a lively subject of research and debate for decades. A confluence of stylistic and archaeological information has finally led to the consensus that the pieces were most likely produced by a carving studio in Trondheim, Norway no earlier than 1150. Chess sets reflect the societies and times in which they were made. If the Lewis Chessmen were made in Norway sometime between 1130 and 1240, they were made as their society was repeatedly ravaged by civil wars. The absence of a commonly accepted line of succession gave rise to increasing conflict between church and state, which stoked wider civil unrest and displacement. For many years, the shifting alliances at odds did not even have names, and thereafter, the names changed with some frequency. It was a society in radical turmoil and uncertain transition.

30 in hand and ready; that the King’s civil authority would be bolstered by including his Queen beside him, albeit with an expression of shock or concern; that Bishops should be afforded place close to, but not equal to the King; and that these nobles should be flanked by fierce and loyal Knights and formidable, familiar-faced foot soldier-Warders.

And what form would the first line of defense, or insulation from danger, take? Just what the Lewis Chessmen provide - a line of expendable “border men” depicted as faceless, formless blanks that serve as anonymous markers defining the “borders” of the area controlled. The pawn forms are smaller-scale versions of the blanks from which the other distinct noble pieces have emerged. At the point that the Lewis Chessmen were made the pawns remained blanks because their permanent identity and function in the social structure was as yet uncertain. These pieces, sometimes lightly decorated to mask their lack of a clearly defined identity, were simple upright slabs like Trondheim, itself was the site of the major tombstones of the anonymous and expendable. Battle of Kalvskinnet in 1179. King Sverre Sigurdsson, using Birkebeiners, defeated Erling Skakke, who sought to depose him. The Birkebeiners (a nickname for men so poor they wore shoes made of birch bark) were gathered from groups of men who had become anonymous, poor, lawless and expendable, having been deprived of land to live and work on. These gangs were originally dubbed markamenn ("border men") because they randomly pillaged settlements along the Fig.16. Chess Pieces in the Form of Pawns, ca. 1150–1200. Swedish border where there was the least civil Scandinavian, probably Norway, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Discovered 1831. Walrus Ivory. H. authority of any kind. 2 in. (5.1 cm). British Museum, London. (1831, 1101.129, If making a chess set to identify and codify the social roles of church and state in an atmosphere of random attacks and power struggles between rival factions it would be natural that all the figures would be wary and wide-eyed; that the King would have his sword
.130, .131). Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

If made in tumultuous Norway around the turn of 12th century, why and how did these chess pieces end up discovered on the Isle of Lewis in 1831? Perhaps they were the valuables of

THE GAME OF KINGS by LARRY LIST shipwrecked craftsmen who sought to escape the chaotic society they had re-created in miniature. Aside from deriving pleasure from their beauty what value is there in the 21st century in studying these artifacts from lands so different, so far away and so far in the past? Studying chess sets that embody templates of other cultures, like the Lewis Chessmen, may enable us to see our own culture more clearly.

31 kleptomanical battles among ideological, religious and secular authorities with shifting alliances and loyalties? Norway then – Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Wall Street, Washington D.C., now? This is the first, and only, time that the Lewis Chessmen have visited America. Perhaps it is no coincidence.

For better or worse, the past often parallels the In such a tumultuous era, time spent present and affords us glimpses of the future. contemplating these stoic messengers from the Large groups of unemployed people and past may be time well spent. people displaced from their homes rebelling, *** THE GAME OF KINGS: MEDIEVAL IVORY CHESSMEN FROM THE ISLE OF LEWIS will be on view through April 22, 2012 at the Cloisters, 99 Margaret Drive, Fort Tryon Park, Washington Heights. For more information call 212-923-3700 or visit The Lewis Chessmen and What Happened to Them. Irving Finkel. British Museum Press. 1998. (Children’s book with cassette tape audio as well.) The Lewis Chessmen. Michael Taylor. British Museum Publications Limited. 1978 & 1986.

The exhibition is accompanied by The Lewis The Lewis Chessmen and the Enigma of the Chessmen. James Robinson. British Museum Hoard. Neil Stratford. British Museum Press. Press. 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009. 1997. In addition to James Robinson’s text (above) A History of Norway. Karen Larson. Princeton each of these texts were of great interest and University Press. 1948. value. The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked. David Caldwell, Mark A. Hall & Caroline M. Wilkinson. National Museum of Scotland. 2010.
Larry List is an independent curator and writer living in New York. His most recent project is Chess Masterpieces: Highlights from the Dr. George and Vivian Dean Collection, on view at the World Chess Hall of Fame, Saint Louis until February 13, 2012.



Next Chess Collectors International Convention tentatively scheduled for June, 2012 in Dresden, Saxonia, Germany Next Bonham’s Chess Auction is May 1, 2012

AVAILABLE TO CCI MEMBERS Chess Sets of United States Companies: Ready for Some Chess Tenite? by Duncan Pohl (CCI Member from USA) $5.00 plus postage History Through Chess 304 Page Sft Cvr Book by Nikolai Timoshuk (CCI Member from Russia) $25.00 plus postage

Contact: Floyd Sarisohn at or PO Box 166, Commack NY 11725

Editor Duncan Pohl 1391 Parkview Dr Woodland CA 95776 Voice: 530.383.5750 Publisher Floyd Sarisohn PO Box 166 Commack NY 11725 Voice: 631.543.1330 Fax: 631.543.7901

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