Wednesday 23 October 2019

Snuffy Davy

Recent mention of Caxton's Game and Playe of the Chesse recalls the oft-repeated tale of Snuffy Davy from Walter Scott's novel The Antiquary which he wrote in the early months of 1816, setting the story in Scotland in the 1790s. The book was first published in Edinburgh and London in May 1816 in an edition of 6,000 copies.

What is seldom repeated are the circumstances surrounding the telling of the Snuffy Davy anecdote. 

The novel's main character, an antiquary named Jonathan Oldbuck, Laird of Monkbarns, north of Edinburgh, (and largely a self-portrait of Scott himself *), is a collector of antiquities and in particular old and rare books. However, he had a distinct aversion to second-hand book dealers, whom he dismissed as "peripatetic middlemen", preferring to track down volumes for his library from primary sources using his own time and toil.

Here then is the full anecdote from pages 56 to 59 of the first edition of The Antiquary, volume I, narrated in Scott's delightful early nineteenth-century prose:

Oldbuck continues by relating details of a few treasures that he has unearthed himself in this manner, and vividly portrays the fervour and emotions experienced by all collectors as they hunt their quarry:

The anecdote is included in William Axon's Introduction to the verbatim reprint of Caxton's Game and Playe of the Chesse, published by Elliot Stock, London 1883, together with considerable information on the printing of Caxton's work, the whereabouts of the ten known copies (in 1883), and details of sales of this very rare volume, the first book on chess to be printed in English. The British Chess Magazine reprinted Elliot Stock's book in 1968.

The story can also be found in Chess Pieces by Norman Knight, London 1949, pages 99 - 100, followed by further information on Caxton's book.

The British Chess Magazine for December 1891 contains an article about Sir Walter Scott by HRH, on pages 530-531, with details of many references to chess in Scott's writings, but, curiously, there is no mention of the Snuffy Davy episode. An abridged version of this article is on pages 276-277 of Reinfeld's The Treasury of Chess Lore, London 1955.

The British Chess Magazine for June 1946, pages 186-187, gives brief details of the sale of Lord Cunliffe's library including a first edition of Game and Playe of the Chesse which sold for £1,900. This is also included in The Treasury of Chess Lore on page 290.

* This information and a few other details are taken from the website.

                                         © Michael Clapham 2019

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Chess Book Exhibitions; Part 3

The Chess Collection of George Allen, The Library Company of Philadelphia

This typescript pamphlet of 24 pages has no title page and very little introductory matter, just a short paragraph on George Allen (1808-1876):

However, this appears to be the catalogue for an exhibition, held from July to September 1979 at the Library Company of Philadelphia, of items from the George Allen collection acquired by the Library in 1878. Penn Libraries give a publication date of 1980 and names Kevin Coghlan and Sandra Nathanson as contributors. 

The catalogue lists 60 items and each one is described in detail with much illuminating information; there is also a handful of poor quality illustrations. Almost a quarter of the exhibits were associated with the Automaton Chess Player.

The first items listed are Illustrations from the Allen Scrapbooks; three lithographs of von Kempelen's Automaton Chess Player dated 1783, two broadsides printed after Maelzel's acquisition of the machine, a lithograph of Louis Paulsen playing Max Lange,  and a lithotint of the competitors in the first American Chess Congress of 1857.

The next section gives details of eleven books and letters relating to the Automaton, including works by von Windisch 1783, Racknitz 1789, Hindenburg 1784, Hunneman, 1820, Observations on the Automaton Chess Player by an Oxford Graduate 1819, Robert Willis 1821, Gamaliel Bradford 1826 and William Schlumberger.

The compiler of this catalogue makes the unfounded suggestion that the "Oxford Graduate" may have been Maelzel himself.

Among the exhibits was a letter from William Lewis to George Allen recounting his experiences with Maelzel and the Automaton, including an occasion when suspicions arose concerning the player hidden inside; Lewis arranged for his friend W. Hunneman to direct the machine while he socialised with his suspicious chess-playing friends.

The next section is titled The Milieu of the First American Chess Congress and includes books, letters and other ephemera pertaining to that event. Periodicals of the era on display included the complete eleven volume run of Le Palamède from 1836 to 1847, The Philidorian 1838, The Chess Palladium and Mathematical Sphinx 1846, and Fiske's Chess Monthly 1857. The final item in this section is Chess in Philadelphia by Gustavus Reichhelm and Walter Shipley, published in 1898; obviously acquired post George Allen, and no doubt included on account of the considerable amount of Morphy material in the book.  

The section headed Nineteenth-Century European Chess Masters includes books by Alexander Petroff, William Lewis, Bilguer and Kieseritzky together with handwritten items by Petroff, Alexander MacDonnell, Saint Amant and Kieseritzky.

The catalogue concludes with Select Volumes from the History of Chess and gives details of a 15th century manuscript by Jacobus de Cessolis, and many of the important works of the 16th and 17th centuries including Damiano 1512, Vida 1527, Mennel 1536, Ruy Lopez 1561 and 1584, Ducchi 1586, Gianutio 1597, Salvio 1604, Selenus 1616, Carrera 1617, Philidor 1749, Cozio 1766 and Twiss 1787.

A number of items in this exhibition had previously been exhibited at the Grolier Club in 1975.



Monday 14 October 2019

Chess Book Exhibitions; Part 2

Chess: A Bibliophile's View was the title of an exhibition held at the Grolier Club, New York, from 21st October to 6th December 1975, and the Gazette of the Grolier Club, for June/December 1975, included a Catalogue of the Exhibition on pages 38 to 76.

This remarkable exhibition was planned as an afterpiece to Bobby Fischer's first defence of his world championship title, which, as Stephen Weissman dryly observes in his introduction: "sadly, never took place; exhibition schedules, however, are not so easily ignored, and it was decided by the committee that match or no, the show must go on"

Weissman selected the exhibits and states "I have tried to be fairly complete in my selection of early books on the practical theory of chess, and reasonably thorough in choosing printed versions of important tournaments and matches".

Following his introduction, Weissman lists the circa 200 exhibits ranging from 14th century manuscripts to handwritten items from the 1970s by Fischer and Karpov. Every item is described in some detail, along with introductory remarks on many of the chess personalities featured, (although some of the observations are contentious). Unfortunately, no illustrations are included in the catalogue.

The Catalogue is in chronological order and is extraordinarily rich in the very earliest chess works beginning with seven manuscripts and nine printed books all dated before 1500! 

The incunabula included Caxton's The Game and Playe of the Chesse, Bruges 1475, described in the catalogue as "The most sought after of all printed books on chess", and also Artes orandi, epistolandi, memorandi, by Jacopo Publicio, Venice 1482, which has a woodcut of a chessboard on the last leaf, claimed to be the very first such representation to appear in a printed book.

The illustration below is from a 1490 edition of the same work, courtesy of Jurgen Stigter. (See also LN 4677)

First edition works from the sixteenth century by Jacob Mennel (1507),  Damiano (1512), Ruy Lopez (1561), Rowbothum (1562), Thomas Actius (1583), Gregorio Ducchi (1586), and Gianutio (1597), are all included and the treasures carried on through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with volumes by Salvio (1604), Selenus (1616), Carrera (1617), Saul (1618), Greco (1656), Hyde (1694), Bertin (1735), Philidor (1749), Hoyle (1761). Lambe (1764) and others. 

Ten books and pamphlets discussing von Kempelen's Automaton were exhibited and a large collection of Paul Morphy memorabilia was on display, including his chessboard, letters, scoresheets, the bust by Lequesne, photograph etc.

Many of the most important and influential chess books of the last 500 years, were on display along with a considerable number of manuscripts, letters and other ephemera, with examples from Sarratt, Deschapelles, Saint-Amant, Kieseritzky, Staunton, Löwenthal, Pillsbury and many of the leading chess figures from the 20th century. (Incidentally, a two-line hand-written note of fourteen words by La Bourdonnais dated 1837 sold for £3,380 at auction recently.) 

A bound volume of virtually all of the original scoresheets from New York 1924 was on display, opened at Reti's scoresheet for his famous win against Capablanca. Three further items in Capablanca's hand were also exhibited:   

A small number of bibliographical works were displayed including A Catalogue of Rare and Valuable Works relating to the History and Theory of the Game of Chess, being the Greater Portion of the Famous Library Formed by J. W. Rimington Wilson, London 1929; described as "The finest collection of chess books ever offered for sale."

The lenders to the exhibition were acknowledged as follows:


Friday 11 October 2019

Chess Book Exhibitions; Part 1

Exhibitions of chess books are rarely arranged, but I have catalogues of three such events and give details in this, and the next two posts.

The Central Library of Barcelona organised an exhibition in March 1940, comprising mainly of books from the collection of Don José Paluzie y Lucena, and published a Catálogo de la Exposición Bibliográfica de Ajedrez  in 1943.

Paluzie y Lucena (born 1860, died 1938 according to Gaige, but twice recorded as 1935 in this catalogue) was a leading figure in Spanish chess circles; a first class player and with a special interest in chess problems, he wrote a number of chess books including the important Manuel de Ajedrez in three volumes, Barcelona 1911 -1913, and pioneered the publication of chess books in Esperanto. He assembled a large and impressive chess library, which he generously made available to others, and this was donated to the Biblioteca Central in Barcelona by his family following his death.  

The Catálogo lists 476 exhibits which were loosely divided into the following categories:

Books in many languages from around the world were exhibited, and each book is described in the Catálogo with basic bibliographical information. Naturally there were many Spanish works on display and it seems from these that Barcelona was a more prominent publishing centre than the capital Madrid. Few very early chess books were exhibited but an incomplete Repetición de Amores, e Arte de Axedre by Lucena, Salamanca 1497, was on display.  

There follows a page or two from each section of my damp stained copy of the Catálogo:

Manuales o Tratados elementales:

 Problemas de Ajedrez:

Concursos, Congresos, Torneos:

Historia y Bibliografia:

Miscelánea ajedrecista:

Revistas y Anuarios:

© Michael Clapham 2019