Saturday 30 September 2017

The Modern Chess Instructor, Part II, by W. Steinitz

The value of the scarce Part II of Steinitz's The Modern Chess Instructor, New York 1895, scaled new heights recently when a copy sold for €831 at the LSAK chess book auction earlier this month.

While the value of many collectable chess books has stagnated recently, the price of this particular item has risen inexorably over the last twenty years or so.

This is almost entirely due to the book's rarity, as this is simply a 64 page paperback openings book, (usually given a wide berth by collectors), covering the, less than exciting, Ponziani opening and the Giucco Piano. I do not have this book, I should make the effort to acquire the Olms reprint, but, no doubt, Steinitz's explanation of these openings is of some significance, especially if he continues the exposition of his theories on the game, which constitutes an important element of The Modern Chess Instructor, Part I, New York 1889.

This book turns up for sale from time to time and is usually sold with Part I. A copy was sold (with Part I) at the remarkable auction of chess literature held by Hauswedell & Nolte in Hamburg on 24th November 1995, when the pair fetched DM 500, the equivalent of about £225 at the time. The book was exaggeratedly described as "of the greatest rarity".

Dale Brandreth had a copy for sale, bound with Part I, in his List TMB-59 issued in July 2001. The price was $275 compared with $75 for Part I only and Brandreth stated "most copies were destroyed in a warehouse fire. Part II is exceedingly scarce".

International Chess Auctions in Ireland sold both Parts in February 2002 for €287 describing Part II as very scarce, and another pair was sold later that year in the Klittich-Pfankuch November auction for €220, Part II described as very rare. 

Part II only was sold on Ebay in August 2008 for £272 and another copy (or maybe the same one) sold for €531 in the International Chess Auction held in February 2009. Parts I and II together were also sold in the Klittich-Pfankuch auction in November 2010 for €300 and for €340 in their November 2014 auction. The most recent sale was for €831 in the LSAK auction on 9th September 2017 as mentioned above.

Some earlier book sellers were aware of the book's scarcity; E. G. R. Cordingley calling this "exceptionally scarce" in his Catalogue No. 4, February 1936 and "the scarcest modern book on chess" in Catalogue No. 5, June 1936. He valued the book at 10/- compared with, for example, 7/6 for each of Mrs W. J. Baird's books, Seven Hundred Chess Problems, and The Twentieth Century Retractor.

The University Place Bookshop, New York, Catalogue No. XIII, 1937 described the book as "one of the scarcest modern works on chess", although the price differential was only moderate: Part I $2.50, Part II $4.75.

John Rather also described the book as "one of the scarcest chess books" in his List 82-A, 1982.

However, the book's scarcity was not always appreciated; Will H. Lyons advertised Part I for sale at $1.50 and Part II at 0.75c in his 1897 Catalogue No. 7, (perhaps the fire had not yet happened), and in the Antiquariatsliste Nr. 291 of N. V. Martinus Nijhoff's Boekhandel en Uitgeversmaatschappij, circa 1938, Parts I and II were sold together for Gld. 2.50.

The British Chess Magazine offered a small chess library for sale on page 76 of the February 1928 magazine, including The Modern Chess Instructor, Part I at 5/- and Part II at 2/- or 6/- the pair. The next month, it was announced, on page 106, that all of the books for sale were disposed of on the first morning and could have been sold ten times over.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Ken Whyld advertised both Parts I and II at 15/- each in his List No. 7 issued in 1954 when he sold off E. G. R. Cordingley's library, although he did describe Part II as very scarce.

                                     © Michael Clapham 2017

Wednesday 13 September 2017

The John G. White Collection

The Gambit, Official Publication of the Missouri Pacific St. Louis Chess Club, issued a Souvenir Edition in June 1930 devoted to the John G. White Collection in the Cleveland Public Library.

Following a page of Acknowledgments and a portrait of the late John Griswold White by Sandor Vago, there is a biography of White written by Mrs. Ina B. Roberts, the publicity representative of the Cleveland Public Library, noting that he was born in 1845, graduated in 1865, admitted to the bar in 1868 and first elected to the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Public Library in 1883. White was President of the Board for 15 years before his death in 1928 aged 83.

A detailed description of The John G. White Collection of Folklore and Orientalia is given by the collection's librarian Gordon W. Thayer. I will comment briefly on this before moving on to The Chess Collection

The foundations of The Collection of Folklore and Orientalia were laid at the end of the 19th century when the United States acquired the Philippines. The CPL had few books about these islands, and White rectified this by acquiring a number of books about the Philippines and donating them to the library. After several years of donating further books on the Orient, folklore, archeology and the early voyages, it was decided to keep all of these books together in what became known as The John Griswold White Collection of Folklore and Orientalia.  
The books were housed in a special library in a long, beautiful room overlooking Lake Erie. The Collection is extraordinarily wide-ranging and rich in material - two of the more exotic items being bronze figurines from the tomb of King Tutankhamen, and a book of magic spells, written with boiled lemon juice on folded birch bark, formerly owned by the medicine man of a savage tribe from Sumatra; now there's a book you don't see every day.  

Five pages of this Souvenir Edition are devoted to a description of the Folklore and Orientalia Collection, and the more you read, the more you marvel at the scope and content of this remarkable collection covering witchcraft, alchemy, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, customs and manners, traditions, mythical legends, gypsies, superstitions etc. etc. I will be pleased to send scans of these pages to anyone interested.

By contrast, the rather disappointing, and poorly written, article on The Chess Collection receives only three and a half pages of coverage. The author of this essay was the chess collection's librarian, Walter C. Green, who displays a distinct lack of knowledge and understanding of his subject. No doubt this was due to the fact that he was new to the job, since the chess and checkers collection had only recently been donated to the library following J. G. White's death in August 1928. Perhaps this June 1930 article is the first account of the great Chess Collection.

Walter Green talks of "Angell's Handbook of Chess", (presumably meaning Agnel's Book of Chess), "the chess automaton" (which one?), "Harold H. W. Murray's monumental history of chess", and there are obvious errors such as "collection of mathematics" (should be manuscripts).  

Instead of delighting us with mouth-watering descriptions of the undoubted treasures in the collection, Green goes on and on about the extensive material held relating to the knight's tour and cubic chess, whatever that is.  In fact there is barely a mention of any individual chess books, just generalities about having lots of this and loads of that. 

There are, however, some interesting revelations:

a. The chess and checkers collection contained around 12,000 volumes in 1930; the most recent estimates that I can find give figures of between 32,000 and 35,000, including over 6,000 bound volumes of periodicals.

b. Chess columns from newspapers and magazines formed an important part of the collection which had 400 bound volumes of these cuttings, including 140 bound volumes from the J. W. Rimington Wilson collection.

c. Bound chess periodicals in all languages numbered about 1,000 and were, with one or two exceptions, complete.

d. J. G. White specified in his will that all advertising pages were to be bound up with the periodicals, a practice, unfortunately, not adopted by many magazine publishers when binding up there own volumes.  

e. White's greatest interest, in the latter part of his life, was in manuscripts, and he went to great trouble and expense to acquire either originals or copies of these.

The three pages of illustrations are equally disappointing; the only chess books displayed are some run-of-the-mill beginners books by Cunnington and Blake, and these are not even the cloth-bound first editions but later, paper covered, editions. However, these books are merely the back-drop to some replicas of the Lewis chessmen. A second illustration shows the same replica Lewis chessmen, while the third illustration shows some more chessmen.  

The full article on The Chess Collection follows:

                                        © Michael Clapham 2017

Monday 11 September 2017

Fred Reinfeld's early chess books

Having taken a light-hearted dig at Fred Reinfeld's repetitive output in the last article, I will redress the balance with a look at some of his earlier books from the 1930's.

Reinfeld wrote his first chess book* at the age of 23 in collaboration with Irving Chernev, and this was published by his own Black Knight Press:

Chess Strategy and Tactics, Fifty Master Games Selected and Annotated by Fred Reinfeld and Irving Chernev, New York 1933.

The fifty games cover the period from 1870 to 1933, although the majority are from the 1920's and 1930's, and include examples from the leading players and major tournaments of that period. Each game has a short introduction and instructive annotations. There is no indication in the book regarding each author's contribution but, curiously, the copyright notice mentions Irving Chernev only.

Here are the introductions to games by Steinitz and Reti:

Five portraits are included, the frontis features Steinitz, while Capablanca and Alekhine have been put together opposite page 66, and Isaac Kashdan and Salo Flohr appear opposite page 92.


I have two copies of this book, a hardback and a ring-bound softback. The only difference between the two is an advert in the latter for Curious Chess Facts by Irving Chernev which was published by The Black Knight Press in 1937.

Reinfeld's second book, A. Alekhine vs. E. D. Bogoljubow, World's Chess Championship 1934, edited by Fred Reinfeld and Reuben Fine, was published by David McKay Company, Philadelphia in 1934. 

The 26 games of this return world championship match are annotated over 48 pages but, again, there is no indication of who wrote what, unless you can distinguish between Reinfeld's and Fine's annotational style, which I haven't attempted.

Incidentally this is one of three books in English covering this, relatively lesser, world championship match; compared with, for example, Lasker v Capablanca 1921, Capablanca v Alekhine 1927, Alekhine v Bogoljubow 1929, and Alekhine v Euwe 1935 which each had only one book devoted to them in English. In fact, only the 1937 world championship match between Euwe and Alekhine had more books written about it in English (four), prior to the Spassky v Fischer match in 1972 (over 20 and counting).

The book on the left was published by The Freeman Press, which had printed Reinfeld's first book the previous year.

Reinfeld's next six books were all published in 1935, the year that he commenced his Modern Chess Library Series with The Book of the Cambridge Springs International Tournament, 1904,  and also the Reinfeld Limited Editions Series with The Games of the Match between S. Flohr and M. Botvinnik, 1933.

Most of Reinfeld's books from these early years are difficult to find and the only book that I have from 1935 is Dr. Lasker's Chess Career: Part I, 1889-1914, Printing-Craft, London. This was another collaboration with Reuben Fine, and there were no further Parts.   

Lasker was a favourite of Reinfeld's and he spent three years researching and analysing the 75 games for this book. 

Reinfeld released three books in 1936 and four in 1937 including volume VI in his Limited Editions Series: Keres' Best Games 1932-1936.  

This was a typescript production stencilled onto the rectos only and  includes 54 games with notes and analyses taken from various sources but mostly annotated by either Reinfeld (22 games) or Keres (25).

The book also has a detailed analysis of the Moeller Attack by Keres and an Errata compiled by Sidney Bernstein. Finally, the List of Advance Subcribers has 79 names.

From page 6:

A second volume of Keres' games was published in 1938;  Keres' Best Games Part II -- 1937, featuring 53 of the 88 games played by Keres in that year including some of his losses.

I have no idea how many of these Limited Editions were printed, but the subscription list in this particular book names 52 Permanent Subscribers and 50 Other Subscribers.

Reinfeld complains in his Preface that "the previous three volumes of this series have had a rather poor reception", but later states that "the first six volumes are now out of print", presumably including one of the aforementioned three.

The Preface also gave detailed information on the next planned volume in the series, a collection of Sammy Reshevsky's best games. This promised to include "contemporary descriptions and reactions to his appearance as a child prodigy", but, alas, this volume never appeared.

A game between Keres and Fine from the Ostend tournament of 1937:

Front covers of the two Keres games collections with errors in the label for Part II:

Fred Reinfeld was also a very competent linguist and translator. Most of the annotations in these two volumes came from non-English publications and were presumably translated by Reinfeld. He is also credited as translator in the 1938 book  From My Games 1920-1937, by Dr. M. Euwe, G.Bell & Sons, London, and receives fulsome praise from Euwe in his Preface.

By the end of the decade Reinfeld had written or co-authored over 20 chess books including volumes on several important tournaments such as Cambridge Springs 1904, Margate 1935, Warsaw 1935, and Kemeri 1937, along with annotated games collections of Botvinnik, Colle, Nimzowitsch, Keres and Lasker; and all of this was achieved before the age of 30.

 * Wikipedia, sourced by Bill Wall, states that an earlier book on the Bled tournament of 1931 was co-authored with Isaac Kashdan but I cannot find this in any bibliography or library catalogue, and doubt its existence. Reinfeld did, however, annotate 16 games for Kashdan's 1933 book on the Folkestone International Chess Team Tournament.

                                         © Michael Clapham 2017