Friday 20 March 2020

American Chess Magazine 1897 to 1899

Several excellent chess magazines were published in the U.S.A. in the 19th century, including Fiske's Chess Monthly, Brentano's Chess Monthly, Steinitz's International Chess Magazine, and The Columbia Chess Chronicle, but perhaps the best of all was the American Chess Magazine published by William Borsodi in New York from June 1897 to December 1899. I will dip into this occasionally and present some of the many items of interest.

Charles Devidé was the chief editor from June to September 1897 followed by L. D. Broughton Jr. from October 1897. A. H. Bierwirth edited the final issues from September to December 1899. Other well-known chess personalities of the period co-operated in the production of the magazines:

Each issue of volume I had around 60 pages and the production standards were very high. The magazines were profusely illustrated throughout with high-quality photographs. Volume I includes 270 portraits in addition to over 70 other group photographs and illustrations, while volume II has 400 portraits! Notwithstanding the excellent quality of most of the photos, the frontispiece to volume I, a portrait of Morphy, is perhaps not his best likeness:

A few of the many wonderful photographs:

Page 72, First International Ladies Chess Congress

Page 269, Key to the above photograph

Opposite page 16
Opposite page 32

Page 149, New Yorker Staats-Zeitung Chess Cup Match

The magazines included the usual fayre of chess news from home and abroad, tournament and match reports, games, problems, correspondence chess, obituaries, book reviews etc. but, in addition, the American Chess Magazine majored in articles on chess history and literature, and included biographical details of many personalities.

An item on page 140 of volume I gave details of chess periodicals published in America, highlighting the short life span of many of them:

The Boston Chess Magazine is, no doubt, the American Chess Monthly published in Boston from 1892 to 1893 and the Washington Chess Journal is The Chess World published in Washington from January to May 1893.

The list is inaccurate, with many omissions, and a letter from J. S. D. Hopkins with additions was published on page 286.

However, this does not complete the record of American chess periodicals of the 19th century; Gino Di Felice's Chess Periodicals also lists the following:

Chess Palladium and Mathematical Sphinx, New York 1846
The Visitor, 1858. A manuscript magazine. Not in Hagedorn*
The Philidorian, Charleston 1859. Hagedorn* page 75 notes that there are no surviving original copies.
The Gambit, New York 1859. Not in Hagedorn* which covers works up to 1859.
The Chess Record, Philadelphia 1873.
Chess Gazette, Philadelphia 1882.

A note on page 344 states that the now ex-editor Charles Devidé was writing a book on modern chess openings with the assistance of Pillsbury and Showalter in America and Tarrasch, Tchigorin and Alapin abroad. This work never appeared although Devidé did publish A Memorial to William Steinitz in 1901 containing a collection of his games.

Original copies of American Chess Magazine are very scarce and even during the magazine's existence, there were repeated requests for the return of particularly hard to find issues (especially nos. 2 and 8 of volume I) so that bound volumes could be made up.  Moravian Chess of Olomouc, Czech Republic has published reprints which are useful for the textual content but the reproductions of the many photographs are particularly poor as shown below:

Left: Original edition, Right: Moravian reprint

* Benjamin Franklin and Chess in Early America by Ralph K. Hagedorn, Philadelphia 1958.

                                            © Michael Clapham 2020

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