History of Staunton Chess Set
The history of Staunton chess sets can be traced all the way back to the 18th century, when the popularity of chess skyrocketed on an international level. As more players became interested in competing in chess as both a social and financial means of interaction, the need for universal chess pieces became more and more adamant.
This beautiful and widely used chess set design is called the Staunton Style which was first created by Nathaniel Cook in the 1800s. This design is named after the English chess master Howard Staunton who first endorsed making of this design and the first 500 of pieces are each signed by Staunton himself. The chessmen in the Staunton style are inspired by Victorian era nobility and high society, such as the Queen’s coronet, the Bishop, the Knight, King’s crown, etc. The pieces are said to have weighted lead and a felted bottom to protect the pieces and to eliminate traction when playing the game. What is unique in this set is that the King is the tallest piece and the knight is represented as a horse head, previously chess pieces were either unidentifiable or were very different from what we know today as the standard or more accepted design of chess sets.
Chess became very popular in the late 1800s and people began showing interest in this incredible game as a result a more standard and accepted chess set design was necessary. Staunton style became very popular and is considered a standard tournament design and is used widely even today.
Since 17 of its variations have been created, and remain the most popular among amateur and professional chess players, these variations are as follows:
1. Leuchars chess set 2. Cooke chess set 3. Wedgewood chess set
4. Morphy chess set 5. Harrwitz chess set 6. Paulsen chess set
7. Anderssen chess set 8. Steinitz chess set 9. Tarrasch chess set
10. Zukertort chess set 11. Lasker chess set 12. Pre-Hartston chess set
13. Hartston chess set 14. Marshall chess set 15. Nimzovitch chess set
16. Broadbent chess set 17. Lessing chess set
The material used in Staunton style can vary greatly and is not only available in wood but also plastic, semi-precious stones and any material used in modern day. Their elegant style is so unique that they look great in any material. This design is used in various types of chess sets, they can be used in digital type chess boards and can easily look like a classical set with a modern twist. The Staunton style has inspired many generations and has standardized the chess pieces as we know it today and has had its profound effects on the evolution of the game of chess. If it weren’t for this beautiful design, we may not have enjoyed the game after all as the pieces would have remained unidentifiable.
While certain modes and rules of chess had already been standardized by the 18th century, the wide variation in chess piece styles made it difficult for universal play: for instance, a player who was unfamiliar with the exact identification of their opponent’s chess pieces could result in a lost game.
It was not until the 19th century that a proper solution was found. In 1849, the John Jacques of London company, well known for their various board and sport game products, released a chess set which was designed to be mass produced and thus used for cohesive play. The exact history of the design of these pieces is not exactly known. It is generally believed that Nathaniel Cookie designed these pieces, but they may have been designed by John Jacques Cooke, the owner of John Jacques of London, as well.
The symbolism behind the pieces, regardless of who designed them, was clear. They were inspired by neoclassical design while incorporating traditional Victorian high society roles–bishop, queen’s coronet, king’s crown, and so on. In addition to the neoclassical designs, the pieces featured weighed lead, which provided much needed support; the pieces were also tacked with felt on the bottom, allowing for them to easily slide across the chess board when compared to previous chess pieces.
The popularity of this board with Howard Staunton, a world-renowned chess player, was instrumental in the proliferation of the Staunton chess set as the international standard for tournament play. Staunton was convinced to release an advertisement in the Illustrated London News of September 1849 and from there, he promoted the chess set at various tournaments and events, resulting in its skyrocketing in popularity.
Modern Staunton Chess Sets and Variations
Today, there are 17 official variations on the Staunton chess set, although the classic Staunton design remains the most popular. There are many options for chess players seeking out a Staunton design, regardless of their budget or personal taste. Chess sets made from wood are popular, as are handmade Staunton sets which add additional uniqueness and charm. Players who are interested in tournament play should look for tournament standard sets, which come in a variety of size and material options.