CHESS MASTERPIECES: ONE THOUSAND YEARS OF EXTRAORDINARY CHESS SETSBy George Dean with Maxine BradyAbrams, $65 272 pages
Chess has tens if not hundreds of millions of adherents around the globe. A few participate in world-class tournaments.Most play “coffeehouse” chess with friends and strangers alike.
But some people are captivated not by the play of the pieces, but by the pieces being played. Thought to have originated in India in the sixth century A.D., the game has hopscotched around the globe, mutating as it went. Today, the rules are constant, but the sets are not. There is a vast array of designs and multitude of materials. It’s a perfect collectible.
Many collectors, like players, are patzers. Modern sets may be interesting and fun, but most are not rare or valuable, such as metal pieces representing “The Lord of the Rings” characters and plastic pieces of “The Simpsons” cast – two sets that I own.
However, there are truly serious collectors who concentrate on the unique and extraordinary.
For example, George and Vivian Dean, founders of the group Chess Collectors International, have accumulated a – perhaps the – world-class collection of chess sets.
In “Chess Masterpieces,” George Dean uses his collection to illustrate the variety and artistry of what most people see as a schoolchild’s game.It’s an engaging story that helps explain the passion many of us have for the sets as well as the game.
Indeed, the passion for the hunt underlies collecting. Mr. Dean writes in the prologue about picking up the scent in 1977 of two Faberge chess sets, created before the Russian revolution swept away the luxuries of the czarist era. Faberge combines beauty and craftsmanship with rarity and value.Mr. Dean ended up acquiring both of them, one in 1977 and the other 26 years later.
Early chess was different from the game today.Mr. Dean begins the story with pieces and board games reaching back thousands of years. No complete sets exist, but the desire to play and compete is basic to humanity.
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