The pandemic has fueled renewed interest in board games as people worldwide stay safe at home and seek diversions. The recent popularity of the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” has toy industry and market analysts noting triple-digit increases in the sale of chess sets to an already “hot” market.
Above and below: French .800 Silver and Parcel-gilt Chess Set, late 19th/early 20th century, bearing maker’s mark “G Fres” possibly for Guillemin Frères, sold for $25,830
Chess is an ancient game, originating in 6th-century India; it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the form of the pieces we are familiar with today were standardized. The Staunton Pattern pieces, as they are known, were originated by Nathaniel Cook, an architect by trade, and produced by Jaques of London. The firm assigned the name “Staunton” to recognize the world’s top player of the day, Howard Staunton.
There are almost endless possibilities in material and design for chess sets for collectors and players alike. The thirty-two pieces of two contrasting colors (king, queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and eight pawns) and the board can reflect a wide variety of styles, from simple to wildly ornamental. Prices can vary widely, often based on the designer or maker’s reputation or the intrinsic value in the material components.
Austin E. Cox Aluminum Chess Set and Board, United States, c. 1962, sold for $923
Look for the right manufacturers, or choose or by the artist’s design. Well-crafted pieces are small sculptures in their own right, and many recognized artists have lent their hand to style sets. More often than not, sets were produced in limited editions.
Wedgwood Jasper Arnold Machin Designed Chess Set, England, c. 1973, sold for $1,230
Exotic wood, precision cast metal, molded ceramic—just about any material you can imagine can form the pieces or board. For serious players, weight and the feel of a piece in motion matters.
Left: Lloyd Atkins Steuben King and Queen Chess Pieces, Corning, New York, c. 1973, sold for $861 / Right: Wedgwood Jasper Model of a Jester Chess Piece, England, early 19th century, sold for $400
The objective of the queen’s gambit is to temporarily sacrifice a pawn to gain control of the board’s center. Want to get your own game on? Bid on an elegant sculptural “Scaccomatto” set composed of two brass cubes—one chrome-plated—is an intricate puzzle of interlocking elements that disassemble into 16 game pieces. First produced in 1977 by the Italian architect and designer Franco Rocco, this set is numbered 506 from a limited edition of 1,000. Each cube weighs 7 lbs.
Franco Rocco (20th Century), Scaccomatto, a Chess Set Sculpture Puzzle, c. 1970s
(lot 1080 in the November 30-December 11 Gentleman’s auction, estimate $2,500-3,500)
Looking for a vintage or antique set? Set up a Bidsquare keyword alert in your profile to be automatically notified when chess sets are available for auction.
Kerry Shrives, Senior Vice President at Skinner