A rare Gray’s of Cambridge Staunton chess set

This is a recent ‘Fresh Meat’ capture, purchased from the most reliable Dermot Rochford – I cannot recommend him highly enough.

This is a collector’s dream set, in the original box with the label in great condition, hand turned and carved in boxwood and ebony with a 9cm king incorporating a lovely wide base of 4.5 cm with red felts. Whilst this set is unweighted, there is, in my humble opinion, a premium added on to the cost of such chessmen, but weighted sets are more prone to damage, and these scarce unweighted sets are well worth looking at.

I have only seen two differing examples of Gray’s chessmen in their labelled boxes both with ‘8 Rose
Crescent’ and ‘36 Sidney Street Cambridge‘, with the other set at the same branch address. Such a quality set deserved further research so I reached out directly to Grays International to see if they could give me even some crumbs of information. After speaking with the charming and most helpful Sophie and Lauren, my email and photos of the set were referred to Director Richard Gray, who then very kindly informed me that company history indicated that Grays were trading from 8 Rose Crescent Cambridge from the 1880’s and later opened 36 Sidney Street in 1897. In 1890 Grays opened a factory in Searle Street but in 1912 moved to Benson Street but by 1910 reference can only be found to Sidney Street and Benson Street, with no mention of Rose Crescent. It would therefore seem most likely that the set dates from between 1897 and 1910, and was made in the Searle Street factory. I cannot thank Grays and Richard enough for being so helpful and responsive to my speculative enquiry.

New collectors please note this:– care must be taken when placing chessmen their boxes, as the lids are fragile, and pawn collars prone to chipping, which both are easily done by forcing the pieces in the box. A good start is to place the larger pieces on the base of the box then add the pawns to the inside with care – only then slowly close the lid keeping a good eye on the pieces as the lid is closing. I have repaired dozens of slide lid boxes all damaged due to poor packing handling, and the excessive use of duct/duck tape does bugger all to protect the contents of shipped items.

Please note that this scarce Gray’s of Cambridge has no crown stamps on either the rooks or the knights. For the benefit of collectors, some chess sellers are recreating crown stamps and placing them on reproduction sets which were NEVER crown stamped.


Posted on

May 2, 2020

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