A late19th century vegetable ivory travel chess set

This interesting-looking draughts travel set was most likely made by Ayres in the late 19th century. Ayres produced two types of travel sets including travellers’ chess. Neither product was of a  high quality and was fiddly to use which probably explains why they appear to be so scarce. I first came across the draughts set back in around May 2006 and then noticed the travellers’ chess version which was snapped up by a well known CCI member so the eternal wait continued for almost 16 years! To get something interesting these days, one needs eyes like a hawk and the patience of Job!

The king is about 1cm in height and almost 1cm wide at the base. The pieces slot into metal pegs and were meant to have a in status quo feature by keeping the chessmen in place. I love the over the top board size shown on the picture depicting a gentleman playing versus a lady. The true playing surface size is about 13 x13 cms.

This pretty scarce item was most likely made by Ayres, as thanks to Keith Middleton – who sourced the original Ayres detailed article and pricelists -, we now have known for some years that Ayres worked with this Tagua nut material and imported it in large quantities. CCI member Gareth Williams offered to The Chess Collector an article in part  by William G Fitzgerald on Ayres as a manufacturer, however Keith somehow acquired the full version which offered a fine insight into 19th century manufacture of chess and games. Getting not just one of these sets but acquiring 2 was a real collector’s coup for myself!

Although there is no maker’s name on both items, it is my belief that these were cheap products sold at railway stations which were simply not designed to last for long and as a result of pieces getting lost they were often thrown away so none too many have survived. I have never heard of any maker who made chessmen out of vegetable ivory apart from Ayres which pretty much confirms my belief that these two products were made by F H Ayres.

At the recent Chess collectors international  Oxford meeting, I showed this interesting cutie to a number

Of well known collectors& the reaction was positive .

So calling this item a T A G O, seems to be fully justified.  Having a number of Tago sets is very satisfying

Indeed.T o try and get one will not be an easy task . Best to trust me on this 😸😸




Posted on

May 6, 2022

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