An important question for the collector/researcher is: how can antique chess sets be accurately dated?There are several methods that can be used to “triangulate” valid date ranges for different types of sets.
In this article therefore Im attempting to give a brief outline of the chronological order and possible dates of introduction of the main types of English chess sets used in that period.
This is based on my own experience and not of any exhaustive research on my part, but hopefully it might lead to others, with knowledge in this area, giving their input which might help in developing a more definitive position sometime into the future.
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In general ivory was used for the best sets (and the most expensive). Fine hardwoods like rosewood and ebony were also used.
Generally smaller cheaper sets were made out of bone, although ivory and fine hardwood sets are generally the most desirable, the larger sets (4 inchs ) are worth considerbly more than the regular 3.5 inch sets and smaller.
I have a particular fondness pre-Staunton playing sets that have been turned and carved (rather than molded metal sets etc), that what this article will focus on.
When I started collecting there was not a significant price difference between a common Barleycorn set and a nice set.
The vast majority are made overseas where it is difficult, if not impossible – to track down the original artist, so a lot of guess work is involved.
I have come up with a few questions you should ask yourself when looking to value or identify antique chessmen.
It is important to realize they are as much an art form as an sculpture or painting, so some of them, by the right manufacturers, can hold a great deal of value.