Wednesday 27 March 2024

Recent auctions part 4 - Chess Made Easy, Philadelphia edition


The 85th Klittich-Pfankuch auction held in Braunschweig in November 2023 featured some very rare English language chess books and the next few articles will discuss some of these.


Lot 952  Chess Made Easy: New and Comprehensive Rules for Playing the Game of Chess; with examples from Philidor, Cunningham, etc. etc.: to which is prefixed a pleasing account of its Origin: some interesting anecdotes of several exalted Personages who have been admirers of it; and the Morals of Chess Written by the ingenious and learned Dr. Franklin. Philadelphia 1802.


Courtesy of A. Klittich-Pfankuch catalogue 85   


"The first chess book printed in America and one of the rarest chess books to find" - David DeLucia in the Foreword to his David DeLucia Chess Library, Darien Connecticut 1997.

"This is the first chess book, although a reprint of an earlier London edition, printed in America which makes it an extremely valuable item not only for chess-book collectors but for collectors of early Americana" - DeLucia in David DeLucia's Chess Library; A Few Old Friends, (first and second editions) and valued at $1,500-$2,000 in 2007. 

Notwithstanding this apparent rarity, DeLucia possessed three copies of this Philadelphia edition in his 1997 catalogue, and five copies in his 2009 catalogue The David DeLucia Chess Library.

Chess Made Easy was first published in London in 1797, and obviously proved popular as further English editions were issued in 1798, 1800, 1803, 1806, 1808, 1812, 1815, 1817, and 1820. Several Italian editions were also published. The compiler of this little book measuring just 15cm. is unknown. For comparison purposes here is the frontis and title page of the London 1815 edition:


The American edition seems to have been unknown in Europe at least until 1859 when it appeared in the American Chess Bibliography in The Book of the First American Chess Congress by D. W. Fiske, New York 1859.  It is not recorded in any of these European chess bibliographies of the first half of the 19th century:  George Walker, London 1838, 1841 and 1846; Oettinger, Leipzig 1844; Schmid, Wien 1847. Surprisingly Walker even omits the London editions of this work. The American edition is, however, recorded in Geschichte und Literatur des Schachspiels, Zweiter Band, by Antonius van der Linde, Berlin 1874, (page 29) and in later bibliographies.

Fiske describes this book on pp 486-487 of The Book of the First American Chess Congress and states that "it is an exact copy of a book bearing the same title which was published in London, by Symonds, in 1796" (See Chess Texts page 60, by Whyld and Ravilious, regarding the date of the first printing). However, one obvious difference is in the pagination: the London editions have 72 pages while the Philadelphia edition has 97 pages, so the layout is obviously different.  

Ralph Hagedorn devotes three pages to this book (and related matter) in Benjamin Franklin and Chess in Early America, Philadelphia 1958, which includes a bibliography of American chess books up to 1859. Hagedorn states (incorrectly) that this edition of Chess Made Easy includes the first American appearance of Benjamin Franklin's Morals of Chess in book form. Fred Wilson follows this in his A Picture History of Chess, New York 1981, but as DeLucia points out in A Few Old Friends, there were several books published in America prior to 1802 which included Franklin's Morals of Chess. 


The Origin of the Game of Chess, referred to in the title, is attributed in the book to the "ingenious Frenchman" M. Favet. Hagedorn (page 49) believes this is "undoubtedly a misprint for Fréret", although Bibliotheca Van der Linde- Niemeijeriana aucta et de novo descripta (Aucta), the Hague, 1974, lists Favet as the author of this article on page 30. Nicolas Fréret, who died in 1749, gave a lecture on L'Origine du jeu des echecs to a meeting of the French Academy in 1719 and published his essay in 1729. Fréret claims, in his rambling history, that chess was invented (seemingly spontaneously) by an Indian philosopher named Sissa at the beginning of the fifth century, and relates the grains of corn story as the reward desired by Sissa; one grain for the first square of the chess-board, two for the second, four for the third, and so on, doubling always to the 64th square.

The Anecdotes of the Game of Chess are largely borrowed from Twiss. There follows The Morals of Chess by Dr. Franklin, 16 pages of instructions entitled A New and Comprehensive Treatise on the Game of Chess, then Mr. Philidor's Method of Playing, with one game and two back games, followed by Cunningham's Gambit. These games are annotated in the form of Reflections at various instructive points


Pages 52-53 of the London 1815 edition

This is a rare and valuable book and copies hardly ever appear for sale (mainly because DeLucia has cornered the market). The University Place Book Shop gave great prominence to a copy in its Catalog XXII c1939, asking $40 whereas almost all of the other 545 items were priced at less than $5.


This copy, with several defects, sold for €650, another copy sold for €600 in the 81st Klittich auction in November 2021. 


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