Monday 18 December 2017

A. J. Souweine, chess bibliophile

Arthur Jacob Souweine (born on Christmas Day, 1872) was a New York chess book dealer in the 1920's and 1930's. He was also a good chess player with a peak Edo historical chess rating of 2213 in 1901, and a keen problem solver; he edited the Problem Section in Alfred Klahre's 1931 book Chess Potpouri.

Souweine had an impressive chess book collection, and in 1938 he produced a catalogue with detailed descriptions of every item. The catalogue lists 667 books, not large by today's standards, but he had many rare and interesting books.  The catalogue was probably not published, but in 1989, Dale Brandreth published a facsimile and I give below details of many of the items that partularly interested me. Souweine gives a fascinating pre-war insight into collectible chess books giving brief opinions on many of these and, often, his assessment of their scarcity. 

This catalogue is not recorded in the standard bibliographies, presumably because it was not originally published, but Betts, L/N and Aucta all list Chess Books for Sale by A. J. Souweine, New York, undated but circa 1928. This catalogue of 187 items is also mentioned in A Letter to Bert by Bob Meadley, implying that it was a catalogue of Souweine's own collection, but it is a list of books for sale.  

The catalogue produced by Brandreth has no title page or any introductory matter, there is simply a footnote on the final page as follows:

Here is a typical page from the catalogue:

Souweine owned many early chess books from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries including Lambe 1764, Wahl 1798 (another early history of chess), Barbier 1672, Ruy Lopez 1584, Vida 1566, 1736, Bertin 1735, Greco 1689, Stamma 1745, Abraham Aben Ezra 1743, Lolli 1763, Weickhmann 1664, Selenus 1617, Philidor 1749, 1762, 1773, 1777, Société d'amateurs 1775,  but made few remarks on these works apart from describing the condition of each book.  

Marache's Manual of Chess by Napoleon Marache, originally published in New York, 1866. Souweine had the common later black cloth reprint noting that the original edition "had a fancy pictorial wrapper":

The Elements of Chess by Julius Du Mont, London, 1925. "A very valuable work for the chess student. Modern work, already out-of-print and scarce." A revised edition was published in 1956 with the collaboration of Leonard Barden.

Elements of the Game of Chess, or a new method of instruction in that Celebrated Game, etc. by William Lewis, Teacher of Chess, revised and corrected by an American Amateur, New York 1827.  The phrase "revised and corrected by an American Amateur" has always intrigued me. Who was the American Amateur competent enough to revise and correct Lewis's original edition of 1822? There were virtually no known American chess book authors before the 1840's, most of the dozen or so chess books published in America before 1840 being reprints of works originally published in England. This anonymous amateur also added a code of Revised Laws which had been sanctioned by the New York Chess Club. See Benjamin Franklin and Chess in Early America, A Review of the Literature, by Ralph Hagedorn, Philadelphia 1958.

The Chess Player, Illustrated with Engravings and Diagrams etc. George Walker, William Kenny etc. Boston 1841.  "Beautifully engraved frontispiece. This excessively rare edition has both 1840 and 1841 dates." Whyld & Ravilious 1841:2 confirms that title pages were printed with both dates but they were both published in 1841.

Chess Made Easy by George Walker, Baltimore 1837. This is one of many books in Souweine's collection from the Rimington Wilson sales and he remarks that on a slip of paper pasted to a fly leaf in this particular book is written: "Perhaps the only copy of this scarce reprint that has been offered (1928) in London for many years". The original edition was published in London in 1836: 

and a New Edition was published in 1850 which included twelve of Walker's own games:

Chess Made Easy by George Walker, Baltimore 1839. "Curiously enough, this later edition is far scarcer than the 1837 one."   

Analysis of the Game of Chess by A. D. Philidor etc., Boston 1826. "This is a particularly scarce item, the last 1,000 copies having been destroyed by fire". However, Whyld & Ravilious 1826:7 states "1,000 copies printed, of which some were destroyed by a fire in the publisher's warehouse". Nevertheless, one of many works on chess that have apparently been destroyed, burnt, sunk, pulped or otherwise lost, thus increasing their scarcity. A subject about which I hope to write soon.

Chess Studies and End-Games, by Bernhard Horwitz, London 1884. Souweine states that his copy includes a frontispiece portrait of Horwitz, noting that there are also copies without the portrait. Indeed my copy does not have the portrait but Owen Hindle's copy does include this fine illustration.

Collection of Chess Studies, by A. A. Troitsky, Leeds 1937. "Even without mentioning the beautiful printing and clear diagrams, this book is undoubtedly one of the best books on end games and should afford almost indeterminate pleasure and usefulness to the reader."

Practical Chess Grammar, by William Kenny, London 1817. "The fine engravings are a veritable feast for the eye and a joy to the collector." 


Morphy Gleanings, by Philip Sergeant, Printing Craft, London 1932. Souweine makes the curious comment "this is the original edition and not the cheap pirated edition of McKay Co. Philadelphia"   Is the Mckay edition inferior to the Printing Craft edition? I am surprised that this reputable publishing house produced cheap pirated editions of any work.

More from Souweine's catalogue next time.

Many thanks to Owen and Kathleen Hindle for access to their library and for many of these illustrations.

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