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MAKING YOUR MOVE.

THE complexities of the game of chess have always eluded me, but that''s not to say I don''t appreciate the qualities and collectability of antique chess sets. By coincidence, this week I seem to be surrounded by them.

First, I received the catalogue for a sale of antiques, pictures and "desirable objects" to be held on Wednesday at Chester fine art auctioneers Byrne's. Resplendent on the back cover was a picture showing a fine miniature Anglo-Indian bone and horn pedestal chess table complete with appropriately sized ivory chess set, which seems a snip at pounds 300-pounds 500.

Measuring just shy of 10ins in diameter, and dating from the third quarter of the 19th century, according to the catalogue description, the top of the table is decorated with elaborate fretwork, set with panels depicting Hindu deities, while the central turned horn column and base have fretwork and penworked decoration, the whole standing on carved ivory paw feet.

It was found in a house in Wirral, the assumption being that it was brought back to this country from India, either by someone rich enough to travel to exotic lands before the days of guided package tours or else as a souvenir by a ship''s captain, perhaps involved in trading there. Either way, it would make a charming Christmas present for any chess player.

In contrast, one of the largest chess sets I''ve ever seen - the kings and queens each measure more than 7ins in height - is by the illustrious Charles Hastilow, one of England's finest ivory craftsman. It will be offered in a two-day sale on December 15-16 by Surrey auctioneers Ewbank Clark Gammon Wellers, estimated at pounds 1,500-pounds 2,500.

Hastilow's work is revered among collectors worldwide. Indeed, his name is used as the generic term to describe all mid 19th century ivory, bone and hardwood chess sets in the red and white so-called barleycorn style, one of the most popular of all Victorian designs. Yet little is known of the master turner, or where he worked... until now.

Interestingly, the provenance of this set is beyond question: it is being sold by a direct descendant of Hastilow, having remained in the family ever since it was made. More importantly, the set is believed to be identical in every way to the one exhibited by Hastilow at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Since it was never sold, it was made by Hastilow probably for his own personal use.

Being offered with the set is a small archive of family papers, including one of Hastilow's distinctive trade cards - decorated fittingly with a vignette of an elephant - which finally lays to rest any doubts about his company''s activities and its location.

The trade card describes the company as "Ivory, Bone & Hardwood Turners, Carvers &c, Manufacturers of Billiard and Bagatelle Bowls, Chessmen, Draughtsman and Fancy Goods &c", all for "Wholesale & Exportation". It also reveals the master carver also employed his sons and had workshops - and probably retail premises - at 3 Queen Street, Worship Street, near Finsbury Square, London EC.

Also in the family papers is an old but undated newspaper cutting of a letter asking for information about the celebrated chess set exhibited by Hastilow at the Great Exhibition and the subsequent Turner''s Exhibition of about 1872. The letter reads: "It was at the latter exhibition that Mr Gladstone bid up to pounds 500 for the collection, but the carver (Hastilow) refused the offer."

In reply, a reader explains the set referred to "has been for many years in the possession of my family. The whole lot is as perfect as when first shown in the Exhibition of 1851. It took Hastilow from 1846 to 1850 to do his great work, and no less than the picked parts of seven tons of ivory were used."

Intriguingly, this Great Exhibition set must still be out there, somewhere.

Christie''s have the big sale of chess sets of the year, to be held at its South Kensington rooms on December 7, which sees the dispersal of a collection formed by one of the founding members of Chess Collectors International, established in Florida in 1984.

Among the most fascinating is a very rare gilt-bronze souvenir chess piece, thought to be one of only a few surviving examples made to commemorate the historical match played in 1897 via the new underwater telegraphic cable between The House of Commons in London and The House of Representatives in Washington DC.

Playing chess over the internet is commonplace today, while games by correspondence date back to 1119, when Henry I of England played Louis VI of France.

The Universal Penny Post of 1840 gave a big boost to postal games, however far apart players lived, but the big problem was the agonisingly slow progress of the game.

According to Christie's, chess is documented to have been introduced to the smoke room at the House of Commons in the late 1880s, where it became a highly popular pastime for members, presumably between debates and matters of state.

Several articles published at the time refer to a chess club; a petition for better chess boards and tables in the House, as well as lamenting the loss of the best chess players due to members losing their seats.

Postal reformer the Conservative MP for Canterbury, Sir John Henniker Heaton, was a great chess player and tireless supporter of cheap cable rates, so in 1897 he and US Representative Richmond Pearson of North Carolina, organised what is believed to have been the only tournament played between the governments of the UK and US.

The matches were arranged as a fun pastime, but the players took them very seriously, with the Representatives documented as having received professional coaching. Moves flew back and forth at breakneck speed - 8,360 miles in 13- seconds, according to advertised claims - the only drawback being the staggering cost of tapping out the instructions. The move 1 Kt 1 to KB 3" was charged as six words and a typical game of 50 moves produced a bruising bill of pounds 20. With no worries about profligate spending in those days, however, the tournament lasted two days, but the outcome was a draw, each side winning 2'games. The suitably inscribed souvenir rook chess piece in Christie''s sale, the body of which is made from a short length of cable, is believed to be one of those presented to each player as a memento and is estimated to sell for pounds 4,000-pounds 6,000.

CAPTION(S):

German turned and carved bone chess set, early 19th century, estimated at pounds 1,000-pounds 1,500 Anglo-Indian miniature chess table and chess men (above) in Byrne's Chester sale on December 1. Souvenir rook made from a piece of telegraphic cable commemorating the transatlantic match of 1897 estimated at pounds 4,000-pounds 6,000 Early 19th century South East Asian carved ivory chess set (main picture) estimated at pounds 10,000-pounds 15,000
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Nov 27, 2010
Words:1156
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