Thursday 14 March 2024

Recent auctions - Chess Match Steinitz-Blackburne, and Steinitz-Lasker Match

The two recent chess book auctions held in November 2023 by Lund Chess Academy (LSAK - Sweden) and Antiquariat A. Klittich-Pfankuch (Braunschweig, Germany) featured many rare items. I will have a look at some of the scarce and rare English language books offered for sale.

LSAK auction November 2023

Chess Match between Messrs. Steinitz & Blackburne, written and annotated by W. Steinitz, The Field Office, London 1876. 56pp.



In his six page Introduction Steinitz explains that the match arose from a desire by various patrons of the game to see a contest between the two leading players from the Vienna International Tournament held in 1873, narrowly won by Steinitz from Blackburne after a two game play-off. The match was for £60 a side with the winner to be the first to score seven wins, and alarm clocks (alarum time pieces as Steinitz called them) were used to regulate the time limits of 30 moves in two hours followed by 15 moves in each subsequent hour.

Steinitz declared that the match excited much interest among chess players and the general public alike owing to the extensive coverage in the London daily papers. However, The Westminster Papers, (which frequently attacked Steinitz), generally ridiculed the match, denounced it as a chess farce, criticised the standard of play and dismissed the contest as of little interest to London chess players. (WP March 1876 page 215).

Steinitz won the match by seven games to nil with no draws, and he devotes 46 pages to a detailed summary and analysis of each of the seven games, enlarging on what had previously appeared in his chess columns of The Field.  

This is a rare book and a pencil note on the title page of this copy states  "not in L/N". It is true that this was not in that collection when the Bibliotheca Van der Linde-Niemeijeriana catalogue was published in 1955, but it is included in the Supplement issued in 1969. Several major libraries have copies and it is also available digitally at

This particular copy came from the Stockholms Schacksällskaps Bibliotek and is signed by Ludvik Collijn the chess patron, author and president of the Swedish Chess Association from 1917 to 1939. I am not sure how much this added to the value of the book but much of the price paid of €1,107 is on account of its rarity. Another copy sold for €950 in the previous LSAK auction in September 2023.




Steinitz & Lasker Match, with Comments, Review, and Original Notes by H. E. Bird; George Bell & Sons London 1894. [2] + 39pp. 



Two books covering this World Championship match were published in 1894; first came The Games of the Steinitz-Lasker Championship Match, by J G Cunningham, followed a few weeks later by Bird's book.  Bird expressed disappointment that he did not have the market to himself for coverage of this match and had a few digs at Cunningham's book which is, in fact, a much more complete record of the contest. 

Henry Bird was acquainted with both Steinitz and Lasker and had played matches with both, and, although at other times Bird had serious differences with Steinitz, in this book he is heavily biased towards the former world champion. So much so that he produces a Summary of the Games with his Bird's Eye View which changes the actual result of the match from Lasker 10 wins, Steinitz 5 wins, and 4 draws, to a "legitimate result in best form" of Lasker 6 wins, Steinitz 6 wins, and 7 draws.


Bird also adorned his title page with The Turning Point, a position from game 7 where he claimed that Steinitz (Black) had missed a win at move 33 beginning with the move Qg3. Steinitz went on to lose this game and the following four games leading to the loss of the match. However Bird's analysis is faulty; Kasparov discusses this intricate position in his On my Great Predecessors Part 1, and declares that the Qg3 line is unclear (Page 124).



Bird gives just the bare moves of the 19 games and his unusual approach was to give a table of Critical Points and Crucial Errors in which he aimed to show where the play could have been improved, and leaving it to the reader to examine these positions further.  Bird also gives a summary of the play in each game and he examines one position from each of the first two games offering an alternative variation at these critical points. 


A digital copy is available at but unfortunately pages 4 and 5 are duplicated while pages 6 and 7 are absent.

This book sold for €135 which was probably a bargain as previous copies have sold for between £250 and £350.

This is a scarce book but not the rarest of Bird's chess publications, That must be Bird's Chess Reviews published in 1890. This 8 page item has several references in Hans Renette's extraordinarily detailed biography of H. E. Bird published by McFarland & Company in 2016. Renette suspects that the sole surviving copy of this is in Harvard University Library. I will have to add this to my Additions to Betts which I will continue soon.


I will look at some others next week.








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