chess set which is comprised of a certain type of chess piece is used for
competitions as prescribed by the rules of chess.
Nathaniel Cook is given credit with coming up with the design, and they are
named after Howard Staunton. The first 500 Staunton
chess sets were hand signed and numbered by Staunton.
This style of chess set was first made available by Jaques of London in 1849,
and they soon became the standard.
Old Style Chess Sets
The increased interest in the board game chess, particularly in international
play in the late 18th century and early 19th century, ushered in a renewed
demand for a universal model for chessmen. The variety and styles of the
conventional chess form begun in the 15th century had dramatically expanded at
the start of the nineteenth century. Some of the common conventional types
popular during this era were the English Barleycorn chess set, the St. George
chess set, the French Regence chess set, named after the Cafe de la Regence in
Paris and the central European Selenus chess set. Most chess pieces were tall,
which made them easy to tip and cumbersome during game play, but their major
flaw was the uniformity of the chessmen within each set. A chess player's
unfamiliarity with an opponent's set could alter the outcome of a game.
By the early decades of the 19th century, it was obvious that there was a
demand for a chess set with pieces that were easy to use and universally
recognized by chess players of diverse backgrounds. The solution, first
released in 1849 by the purveyors of fine games, John Jaques of London,
sport and games manufacturers, of HattonGarden,
was to become known as the Staunton
chess set after Howard Staunton, the chess player and writer who was generally
considered the strongest player in the world from 1843 to 1851.
Although Nathaniel Cook has long been given credit with the Staunton
design, it may have been conceived by his brother-in-law and owner of the
firm, John Jaques.
The First Theory
The first theory considered involving the evolution of the Staunton
chess set is that Mr. Cook had used prestigious architectural concepts
influenced by the culture of Greece
and ancient Rome,
who were designing prestigious buildings in the neoclassical style. The
appearance of the new chess pieces were based on this style and the chessmen
were symbols of "respectable" Victorian society:
A distinguished bishop's mitre,
A queen's coronet and king's crown,
A knight carved as a stallion's head from the Ancient Greece Elgin Marbles
and a castle streamlined into clean classical lines,
projecting an aura of strength and security.
The form of the chess pawns was based on the Freemasons
Square and Compasses, however; yet another theory suggest the
pawns form is derived from the balconies of Victorian architecture.
The Second Theory
The second theory is that Jaques, a master turner, may have been experimenting
with a design that would not only be accepted by chess players but could also
be constructed at a reasonable cost. In the end, he most likely borrowed and
synthesized elements from sets already available to create a new design that
used universally recognizable symbols atop conventional stems and bases.
Moreover, the pieces were compact, well balanced and weighted to provide a
playing set that was as useful as it was understandable.
The Third Theory
The third theory is thought to be a combination of both theories with the
synergy of Mr. Cook the entrepreneur and Mr. Jaques the artisan.
The ebony and boxwood sets were weighted with lead to provide added stability
and the underside of each piece was covered with felt. This afforded the
players the illusion that the chessmen were floating across the board. Some
ivory sets were made from African ivory. The king sizes ranged from 3 inches
to 4 inches and the sets typically came in a caron-pierre case, each one
bearing a facsimile of Staunton's
signature under the lid.
chess pieces mainly resemble columns with a wide molded base. Knights feature
the sculpted head and neck of a horse. Kings, the tallest of the pieces, top
the column with a stylized closed crown topped with a cross patte. Queens are
slightly smaller than kings, and feature an coronet topped with a tiny ball.
Rooks feature stylized crenellated battlements and bishops a Western-style
mitre. Pawns are the smallest and are topped by a plain ball that represents a