May 202011

If you play chess, you are likely most familiar with Staunton chess sets. The Staunton pattern includes the king topped by a cross, the knight represented by a horse’s head and the rook depicted as a castle and is a style often associated with luxury chess sets. How and why did this type of chess set become so popular?

In the early 1800’s, there were a wide variety of chess sets depending on the country and designer. Some sets got damaged easily and others had pieces that would fall over. Depending on the materials used and complexity of carving, the sets could become very expensive. There was no standard style.

In the mid-1800’s, John Jacques, a London businessman, was producing a number of chess sets for different retailers at his factory. Noticing that there was no consistency from one chess set to the next, he began making plans to create and distribute a standard chess set to the community. Jacques bought the rights to a chessmen design from a man by the name of Nathaniel Cook in 1849. Alternatively, it is also said that Jacques may have really invented the design and Cook was acting as his agent. By the end of that year, Jaques & Son of London were distributing this pattern to the masses. Cook asked Great Britain’s best player at the time, Howard Staunton, to put his name on the design. The whole process was easy because Cook edited the “Illustrated London Times” where the newly-born Staunton chess set was being advertised. Staunton was a chess master and wrote for that periodical, so it was easy for him to promote the name.

Staunton was the strongest chess player of his time. He had a huge amount of success in the 1840’s and was widely-regarded as the champion of that decade. He organized the first international chess tournament and wrote many books about chess. Staunton represented the optimism and respect of the Victorian era, which made him the perfect choice for the moniker of this chess pattern.

The Staunton pattern quickly became popular due to its low cost, durability and stability of the pieces. Today, the Staunton design is accepted as the standard and is so well-known that chess tournaments require their players to compete with Staunton-pattern chess sets. If you own staunton chess sets signed and numbered by Staunton himself, it would be very valuable, as he only signed 500 sets.

Related posts:

  1. Chess Piece Designs from Around the Globe
  2. Antique and Collectable Chess Sets
  3. The Many Different Types of Chess Sets
  4. Themed Chess Sets
  5. The Isle of Lewis Chessmen

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