Our Range Of Isle Of Lewis Chess Pieces
The Isle of Lewis chessmen are probably the second most familiar set of chess pieces in the world today. These legendary pieces have an incredible story behind them and are a constant source of fascination among enthusiasts. The original Lewis chessmen were discovered during the eighteen hundreds on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. They are thought to be hundreds of years old and probably originated from Norway. The original pieces are on display in museums within the UK, something not all Norwegians are too keen on. We sell a range of accurate reproductions of the originals, they not only make great chess pieces but superb ornaments too.
The Official Isle of Lewis Chess Set
If you will only settle for the very best but can't quite bring yourself to steal the original pieces from the museum then the next best thing is the official set of Lewis chessmen from the National Museum Scotland. This is a highly accurate set commissioned and made in England by the worlds authority on the historical pieces. The pieces have been created using laser scans of the originals, so accuracy is as good as it gets. The set is sold is a beautiful presentation box with silver leaf design on the front. A hugely popular set that bears the 'made in England' mark of quality and precision.
The Lewis Chessmen
It is possible that the most famous archeological find ever unearthed in Scotland is the hoard of Lewis Chess Men, at Uig in the Isle of Lewis in 1831. They featured in the BBC documentary, Our Top Ten Treasures (2003), in fifth position in a list of British finds selected by experts at the British Museum, and also in the BBC Radio 4 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects.
The origins of the Isle of Lewis
The Islands of the Outer Hebrides were ruled by Norway in the 12th and 13th centuries when these pieces were carved from walrus ivory, with a few made from whale's teeth. It is widely believed that the pieces were crafted in Scandinavia, most likely Trondheim in Norway, and transported to Lewis by ship. They could have been being transported to the Hebrides by a merchant who intended to sell them, or possibly were pieces used for the recreation of a ship's crew or passengers. Many ancient shipwreck sites around the world have given up a variety of gaming pieces used to amuse the men on board.
How did the Isle of Lewis chess sets come to be buried?
The chessmen would have been treasured, luxury possessions at the time they were created. Stories abound about why they were in Lewis. Possibly a merchant's lost hoard while he was transporting them further afield, maybe hastily buried by him to hide them from marauders. Their final destination might have been Ireland as Lewis was on the sea route from Norway. But there is evidence of men of influence and some wealth in Lewis itself who could have used the sets for recreation. The playing of games was one of the marks of a great man! They could well have been intended as a gift for a ruler. How and exactly when they came to be buried remains a mystery.
Isle of Lewis chess men designs
The Lewis chessmen number 78 pieces. 11 of these are in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the other 67 are in the British Museum, London. The found pieces probably represent 4 originally complete chess sets, and there were other gaming pieces with them that together may have doubled for use in another pastime from the Scandinavian mainland known as hnefatafl. Each Lewis chessman is an appealing miniature sculpture and they all have fascinating expressions, sad, possibly fearful and slightly comic, except the pawns which are uniform pillars with a geometric design. There is some evidence that some were stained red although they are now all white. Black and white chess pieces do not appear until later centuries.
Isle of Lewis chess sets in the arts
The iconic Lewis chess pieces have been an inspiration to authors and are frequently seen on TV and in films. The well-known children's writer Rosemary Sutcliff based her medieval fantasy story, Chess-dream in a Garden, published two years after her death in 1991, on the Lewis chessmen set. The figures are the main characters in the story. Possibly this book's greatest fans are adult chess enthusiasts!
Isle of Lewis chess sets have made several appearances in movies, increasing their popularity. Notably Becket, (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968). Both of these based on historical themes and set in the 12th Century. The Lewis chess men owned by Louis, King of France in Becket were red and white, and the game in The Lion in Winter between the French King Philip II and the English King Henry II's son Geoffrey was played with historically inaccurate black and white pieces. Harry Potter played a game with his friend Ron Weasley with red and white Isle of Lewis chess pieces in the first film of the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001). The Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal is a story of a medieval knight who plays a game of chess with Death and features the Lewis Chess men.
In children's television the animators Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin were inspired to create The Saga of Noggin the Nog whilst viewing the Isle of Lewis chess exhibited at the British Museum.