SAINT LOUIS, MO.- Treasures of chess culture from across the globe are on display at the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF) until September 15, 2013 in Prized and Played: Highlights from the Jon Crumiller Collection.
The exhibition covers two floors at the WCHOF and is divided into two sections: “Prized” showcases ornamental and precious sets while “Played” includes notable playing sets and artifacts that have been significant to playing the game.
“Mr. Crumiller’s collection is extremely rare in that it has such a deep variety of both ornamental and playing sets. Our exhibition is organized in a way that allows visitors see to how different cultures have interpreted chess for centuries and expressed their regional character through the creation of unique sets,” said Susan Barrett, WCHOF director.
Mr. Crumiller is an avid chess player and collector who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. The WCHOF is proud to be the first institution to exhibit his collection. Prized and Played includes over 80 exquisite sets as well as significant chess-related artifacts.
The beautiful materials and imaginative forms of the ornamental chess sets testify both to the tastes of the original owners and the talents of the makers. Sets in the “Prized” section of the exhibition were intended for display rather than use in play.
“These sets – often fabricated using rich materials like jade, pearls, and silver – were intended to be art objects. They perfectly highlight how art and chess influence one another,” Barrett said.
Most of the “Prized” sets date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One notable example is an East India “John” Company set shown on its original display case with a glass dome.
“There is an element of whimsy to many of the ornamental sets. One set resembles beautiful birds, another pits symbols of good and evil against each other, and another features tiny dolls,” Barrett said.
Highlights of the “Prized” section:
• Cantonese King George Set – An exquisitely-carved ivory set in a cabinet that also contains additional game pieces. The finest chess sets in China were manufactured in Canton, where this elegant set was created. The British introduced their style of chess to China in the late eighteenth century, when they established trade networks in the country.
• Italian Good-versus-Evil Set – Satyrs, led by Mephistopheles in red, face off against a pious group of figures, led by a saintly king and queen in this set, which embodies the theme of good versus evil.
• Rare Rajasthan Set – This unique set, executed in shades of apricot and green, was created in Rajasthan, a state located in the northwestern region of India. Its rarity stems from its hybrid style of traditional Rajasthan set features and Sikh or Sahid styles of sets.
• Royal Court Ivory Set – Commissioned in 1873 by the Maharaja Abhay Singh, the set was made by the artist Daud as part of the dowry for the Maharajah’s daughter. It was featured in a 1904 issue of Connoisseur Magazine.
The exhibition’s playing sets tell the story of the standardization of chess sets for competitive play, as well as highlighting chess culture in different regions of the world. Many are one-of-a-kind, made for notable figures such as Maharaja Bhagvat Singh and Lieutenant Colonel James Tod (an officer of the British East India Company).
“The first international chess tournaments took place in the nineteenth century, making it necessary to develop a standard chess set that players from around the world could recognize. Our exhibition shows the different styles of playing sets that proliferated in different countries before the tournament-standard Staunton set was created,” Barrett said.
The exhibition includes sets from numerous countries, including Great Britain, Germany, France, India, Italy, China, and Cambodia.
Highlights of the “Played” section:
• A fifteenth century Embriachi chessboard plus an Italian chess set and Spanish chessboard from the seventeenth century
• A sixteenth century copy of Libro de la Invención Liberal y Arte del Juego del Axedrez (translation: Book of the Liberal Invention and Art of the Game Chess) by Ruy López; the book analyzes the famed Ruy López opening, which gained its name from the author of the publication.
• Boards signed by notable chess players and a timer used in the 1927 World Chess Championship match between Alexander Alekhine and Jose Raul Capablanca.