Saturday 13 February 2016

Books on chessmen published in English

This article is dedicated to Brenda.

It is perhaps surprising that, despite the abundance of books on all aspects of the game of chess, and the great variety of chess pieces used over the centuries since the game was invented, no book, published in English (or any other language as far as I can tell), was dedicated to chessmen until 1937 when Chessmen by Donald M. Liddell, with the collaboration of Gustavus A. Pfeiffer and J. Manoury, was published by Harcourt, Brace & Co., New York. The book was also published by George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London 1938. 

Liddell title page

Frederick S. Copley had published a small pamphlet of 12 pages with illustrations, in New York in 1864, entitled Copley's improved geometrical & universal chess-men, adapted for every game on the checker-board...and containing Hoyle's rules and laws for playing chess. This, however, appears to be a booklet describing just Copley's own design of chessmen (of which none could be traced by Liddell).
A copy of this very rare pamphlet is held by New York University Libraries but not, apparently, by either the Cleveland Public Library or the Bibliotheca van der Linde-Niemeijeriana at The Hague.

Some historical works had discussed chessmen to a greater or lesser degree, and, in particular, H.J.R. Murray’s A History of Chess, Oxford 1913, was a significant source of information for later writers. There had also been many articles, exhibition and museum catalogues, and books on ivories with sections on chessmen; but no comprehensive work had been exclusively devoted to chessmen until 1937. 

It is in the nature of books on chessmen that they are all profusely illustrated with, not only chess pieces and sets, but also boards, paintings and manuscripts etc.

Plate from Liddell

Liddell’s book has 171 pages of text plus nearly 100 pages of plates in black and white. In addition to the chapters on the history and variety of chessmen, there are other interesting chapters such as Napoleon at the Chessboard, Famous Chess Resorts, Chess in Art and Archaeology and Chess Automata. There are also appendices listing Mediaeval Chessmen, Museums Containing Renaissance and Modern Chess Materials, a Bibliography on Chessmen and Ivories and Names of the Pieces in Various Languages. 

Hammond dust jacket

The next book to appear in English was The Book of Chessmen by Alex Hammond, published by Arthur Barker Ltd., London 1960. Hammond was, at the time, one of the world’s best known collectors of chessmen and the book describes and illustrates some two hundred chess sets from his collection. The book has 160 pages including 63 pages of black and white illustrations. There is no bibliography as the author states “reliable works on this subject are non-existent”.

Plate from Hammond

Plate from Hammond

A small paperback of 38 pages entitled History of Chessmen by Emile Katz was published in 1963 by Hugh Evelyn, London. I have not seen this, although it is readily obtainable, and the next substantial work was Chess; the Story of Chesspieces from Antiquity to Modern Times by Hans and Siegfried Wichmann, published by Paul Hamlyn, London 1964. It is difficult to show a good representation of this book as the front cover is plain black cloth and my copy does not have a dustjacket, and the title page is very sparse, I therefore show the spine and contents page.

Wichmann spine

Wichmann Contents

This is a translation of Schach, Ursprung und Wandlung der Spielfigur, Munich 1960. The book has 328 pages arranged as follows; 70 pages of text are followed by 200 pages of plates many of which are in colour. A further 50 pages of Notes on the Plates give detailed descriptions of the illustrations.  Several illustrations of chess themed paintings are also included. A five page bibliography listing around 250 items completes the book.

Plate from Wichmann

Plate from Wichmann

The following three books were all published in 1968:

Chessmen by A.E.J. Mackett-Beeson, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. 120 pages and a similar number of illustrations many in colour.

Mackett-Beeson front cover

Chess: East and West, Past and Present: A Selection from the Gustavus A. Pfeiffer Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 178 pages and around 135 illustrations, eight in colour.

Chess east and West front cover
Plate from Chess East and West

Chess Sets by F. Lanier Graham, Studio Vista, London and Walker, New York. 84 pages, around 90 illustrations of which only two are in colour and one of these is reproduced on the dustjacket

Lanier-Graham dustjacket

The next major work was Chessmen by Frank Greygoose, published by David & Charles, Newton Abbot 1979. After 32 pages of introductory matter there follows 122 pages of illustrations, 45 of which are in colour, showing chess sets and pieces many of which are from the author’s own collection. The Bibliography lists nine books.

Greygoose dustjacket

Plate from Greygoose

The only other work up to 1988 was Chessmen for Collectors by Victor Keats, published by B.T.Batsford Ltd., London 1985. This is a substantial quarto volume of 240 pages and the chess sets and pieces described and illustrated are organised by countries and regions. The book is profusely illustrated throughout including 32 pages of colour plates. There is a Bibliography listing 30 items, although none of the previous books on chessmen are mentioned; suggestions for Further Reading, which does include Hammond's and Liddell’s books; and a comprehensive Index.

Keats dustjacket

Plate from Keats

I conclude this article with an advertisement for a lecture by Dr. Emanuel Lasker which he illustrated `by means of Mr. Peter Toepfer's patented "Exhibition Chessmen."´

Lasker lecture advert
                                        © Michael Clapham 2016

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