Cash in the attic: Chess sets

Chess is one of the most popular board games of all time involving knights, rooks and pawns; a chequered grid and the objective to ‘check mate’ your opponent’s king.

Chequered history

It likely originated in India in the 6th century, but developed into the game we know today in 15th century Italy. Chess boomed in popularity during the 19th century and 20th century, which is when most of the sets on the market today date from. The Eastern export markets of China and India were among the most prolific producers, but chess sets were also made in Germany, Britain and France.

Chess boomed in popularity during the 19th century and 20th century

Staunton sets

In 1849, British games company Jaques revolutionised the chess world by designing a standard set for competitions. The set was named after chess champion Howard Staunton (1810-74). This early 20th century carved stained ivory Staunton chess set pictured (King 7cm high) is valued at £500 to £700.  Ivory Staunton sets are more rare than those made from fruitwoods.

Spotting winners

Look out for high-quality materials and design. The more finely carved and detailed the pieces, the better. Aim to buy complete sets as finding replacement pieces to match in terms of colour, size and detail is very difficult. An original box will add to the desirability. Be aware of national limitations on the trade and export of materials such as ivory, particularly for modern sets.

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