Sunday 13 March 2016

George Walker, chess book collector and bibliographer (Happy Birthday)

George Walker (1803-1879), whose birthday it is today, was one of the first major collectors of chess books and a pioneer of chess bibliography. Walker began collecting chess books at around the age of 25; he was obviously very proud of his library and repeatedly published bibliographical catalogues of chess works which were mainly from his own collection.

Walker's first foray into chess bibliography was in 1830 when he commenced a notice of chess books in the Bibliographical and Retrospective Miscellany. However, this was only printed as far as the letter A. Chess Texts in the English Language, printed before 1850 by Ken Whyld and Chris Ravilious, Olomouc 2003, records this at 1830:1, but does not mention Walker as the chess contributor. 

Chess Texts page 108

In 1838 Walker published The Philidorian magazine, complete in one volume, and this included, at pages 217-256, A Bibliographical Catalogue of Printed Books, and Writers, on Chess up to the Present Time.

The Philidorian, title  
In his introduction Walker states `with the exception of the catalogues by Hoeck, Clodius, and Cochrane, the collector has no data on which to found his researches; but stumbles on, purchasing in the dark; and of course frequently led to attach great value to publications comparatively worthless.´ Curiously Walker does not mention the bibliographical works of Richard Twiss in his introduction although these are listed in his catalogue.

I am not familiar with the first two authors mentioned above, but L/N* 5 records: Clodius (H.J.), Primae lineae bibliothecae lusoriae, Lipsiae, 1761. Aucta** 252 gives further details and states that 101 chess items are distributed throughout the book. 

L/N* 10 records: Höck (J.D.A.), Versuch einer Literatur des Schachspiels, Frankfurt, 1825. In: A. Reinganum, Ben-Oni. Aucta** 470 gives further details and states that this includes 268 items.

*   Bibliotheca Van der Linde-Niemeijeriana, A Catalogue of the Chess Collection in the Royal Library, The Hague 1955.
** Bibliotheca Van der Linde-Niemeijeriana aucta et de novo descripta, Volume I.  Chess: Bibliography and History, The Hague 1974.

A Treatise on the Game of Chess by John Cochrane was published in London, 1822, and includes a Catalogue of Writers on the Game of Chess at pages 355-376. There are 140 entries listing about 215 items.  

Cochrane's Treatise, title

Page from Cochrane's Catalogue

Walker states, in the introduction to his catalogue, `most of the books are, indeed, in my own possession; collected... during the last ten years.´ He outlines the scope of the catalogue and says that chess manuscripts have been excluded. There are 403 chess items listed but many of these give details of several editions; for example the single entry for Philidor's L'Analyze des Echecs records ten different editions of this work. 

Walker also lists nineteen `of the chief works on Draughts´, the earliest dated 1547. 

Bibliographical Catalogue in The Philidorian

The third edition of Walker's A New treatise on Chess included, as an Appendix, a Bibliographical Catalogue of Printed Books, and Writers, on Chess, up to 1841. This was a slightly enlarged version of the catalogue from The Philidorian and now included 420 items but no works on draughts.

In 1842 Walker contributed a series of articles to La Palamède under the title Ma bibliothèque d'échecs and a manuscript exists titled My Chess Library, London January 1842.

The fourth edition of A New Treatise on the Game of Chess (now with the additional title of The Art of Chess-Play) was published in 1846 and this included a considerably enlarged Bibliographical Catalogue. This now included 498 entries, and included over 40 new works, published since the previous catalogue, reflecting the acceleration of chess book publishing towards the middle of the 19th century. Unfortunately there is no mention of A Few Observations on A New Treatise on Chess, (see my article of 11th March).

The Art of Chess-Play, title

Around 135 of the 498 entries in the 1846 catalogue are works in the English Language, some magazine articles are listed and there are a surprising number of books on variants of chess included.

Page from the 1846 Bibliographical Catalogue

Page from the 1846 Bibliographical Catalogue

The importance and usefulness of these bibliographies is considerably enhanced by Walker's notes and comments to many of the entries. Some of these comments are complimentary:

Alexandre, A: `A monument of patient and useful industry by the author.´
Cazenove, John: `Some of the games are particularly brilliant.´
Cochrane, John: `his book deserves a place in every Chess library.´
Greco, Gioachino (by Wm. Lewis): `The best edition of Greco extant.´
Lolli: `The most classical work on chess extant.´
Nieveld,Zuilen Van: `best book ever published as to the elements of the game.´
Walker, George (Chess Studies): `a complete Encyclopædia of reference.´

Some of the comments relate to the rarity of the books:

Beale, Francis: `This book is of rare occurrence.´
Carrera, Don Pietro: `one of the rarest Chess authors.´
Cozio: `It is remarkably rare for a book of a date so modern.´
Lucena: `exceedingly rare.´
Rowbothum, James: `extremely scarce.´
Selenus, Gustavus: `This book is very rare.´
Verci, Giambatista: `Verci's volume is one of the rarest on the subject.´

While some of the comments are biting:

Echecs, Les Stratagemes des (by Montigny): `Stamma is shamefully pillaged.´
Firmas-Peries, M. Le Conte de: `trash.´
Hoverbeck, C.E.B. Freyherrn Von: `utter trash.´
Lewis, William (Oriental Chess): `Wholly taken from Trevangadacharya, who was thus saved the trouble of sending over copies for sale in England.´
Pratt, Peter:`The quaintness of Mr. Pratt's style is by no means its minor merit.´
Sarratt, J. H. `The words "translate and arrange" signify in Mr. Sarratt's vocabulary, to "mutilate and abridge."´
The Chess Player's Chronicle volume IX, 1848, page 8, stated that Walker possessed the best chess library in Europe.  His library was sold by Sotheby's of London on 14th May 1874, five years before his death. Interestingly another major chess library was sold by Sotheby's of London the following day, that of C. W. Whitman. 

The sale proceeds were disappointing, according to William Potter in The City of London Chess Magazine, June 1874 page 109. H.J.R.Murray stated, in his excellent article on Walker in the British Chess Magazine, May 1906 page 194, that `Walker collected a small and valuable library of chess books, 314 in number.´ However, 314 was the number of lots in the Sotheby auction (see Aucta 1246) and it is probable that many of these lots contained multiple items. I would need to see the Sotheby catalogue to confirm this. It is also quite possible that not all of Walker's library was included in this auction

                                     © Michael Clapham 2016

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