Staunton Chess Sets
History of Staunton Chess Sets
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.
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.