Late 19th century vegetable ivory chess set of small size

A few years ago I purchased this delightful small Staunton set from ‘old games of chess‘. At just over 4.5 cms, the king is so small that it has since become a ‘pet’ (favourite) set. The current proposed ivory ban will – I hope – make these sets more desirable. Quite often this tagua nut material is mistaken for Bakelite or early plastic, but the delightful colour of these antique chessmen can confuse people who know little about this material. This substance is lovely to hold, tactile, and  is popular amongst some fellow chess collectors. I have about 6 of these antique sets plus a modern one given to me as a welcome gift by Mike (I still have it – a delightful set!) There are sets being made today that can be seen on Ebay made in Ecuador. Thanks to the efforts of CCI member Keith Middleton, who sourced an antique F H Ayres pricelist from the late 19th century, we know who made these desirable sets – what is fortunate is that this material is quite tough, and allowing for ‘turner’s licence’, one can notice size variation on some pieces but get these sets in decent condition.

For new collectors looking for something nice and interesting this material is well worth a look. Ayres produced Staunton pattern chessmen and some lovely English/ St George pattern set whilst calling these sets ‘rare’ – which is far from correct- , as numbers have survived. The published collage photo contains some dubious-looking restored pawns, but no matter, as my set is in mint condition. The carved knights are far from beauties, and more like punk rocker style – probably some of the Sex Pistol members could get such a set for a hairstyle check! (of course no offence is meant to any of them still living now). I first became aware of these lovely sets within two years of collecting which were not cheap at the time, with larger sets costing far more as size increased, but I would not trade this little fellow for any other larger set. Ayres sold these sets in polished boxes, but I am unaware of any other maker producing antique chessmen of this material. For the curious one can check out information on Google ‘tagua nut chessmen‘.



Posted on

September 27, 2020

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