Featured Chess Sets 2020

Through the Featured Chess Set project, the World Chess Hall of Fame showcases a variety of chess sets throughout the year. These include highlights from our own collection as well as chess sets owned by friends and chess lovers who have special stories to accompany their sets.

January

January’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history.

Elvis Presley Chess Set, 2007

Wood Expressions

Elvis Presley Chess Set

2007

King size: 2 ⁵⁄₈ in.,

Board: 14 ¹⁄₈ x 14 ¹⁄₈ in.

Plastic and cardboard

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Presley is the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music. Often referred to as “the king of rock and roll,” Elvis Presley reigns in this chess set. The pawns and knights are references to two of his most famous songs—“Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog”—which were both released in 1956. The rooks are modeled after Graceland, Elvis’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, which he owned from 1957 until his death in 1977. In 1986, Elvis became part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s first group of inductees.

February

February’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history. This set is part of a generous donation from Carol Ruth Silver to the collection of the WCHOF.

Freedom Rider Replica Chess Set

Carol Ruth Silver

Freedom Rider Replica Chess Set

2018-2019

King size: 1 in.; Board: 9 ½ x 9 ½ in.

Case: 9 ¾ x 9 ¾ x 9 ¾ in.

3D printed plastic and paper

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, gift of Carol Ruth Silver

This 3d-printed chess set is a replica of a set created by Freedom Rider Carol Ruth Silver. The original, which she donated to the archives of Tougaloo College during the Freedom Riders’ 40th anniversary reunion, is now on view at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized Freedom Rides, in which civil rights activists intended to test the enforcement of Boynton v. Virginia (1960), a Supreme Court ruling that stated that racial segregation in interstate bus and rail travel and stations was unconstitutional.

The Freedom Riders faced violence from mobs opposed to desegregation, who were often in collaboration with local police. Many, like Silver, were arrested when they attempted to enter segregated facilities. Silver and other Freedom Riders were sent to the Mississippi State Penitentiary (also known as Parchman Farm), where she served 40 days. She created a chess set from saliva and bread to help pass the time. The dark pieces were colored with blood, and the board was made from a page in a prison-issued Bible. In her book The Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes From Parchman Prison (2014), Silver described playing chess with an inmate in another cell by shouting the notation for their moves to each other.

March

March’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history. This set is part of a generous donation from Gregory Thompson.

Zukunft Chess Set, 2019

Gregory Thompson

Zukunft Chess Set

2019

King size: 1 ½ in.

3D printed plastic

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, gift of Gregory Thompson

In 1849, Nathaniel Cooke created the Staunton chess set, which is today the familiar standard for tournament play. Since the set was created, many designers have imagined alternatives to the set, including the 20th-century artist Man Ray, who created a chess set based upon geometric shapes. Gregory Thompson’s design is a response to both of these famous sets. Called the Zukunft (future) Chess Set, it blends the simplicity of Man Ray’s set with the Staunton set’s interest in historical iconography. The queen and king are geometric shapes which evoke the coronet and cross atop the queen and king in the Staunton style set, while the knight is topped by triangular shapes reminiscent of a horse’s ears. Thompson manufactured the set with a 3D printer at the University City Public Library.

April

April’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history.

William Lombardy’s Travel Chess Set and Case, Date unknown

Maker unknown

William Lombardy’s Travel Chess Set and Case

Date unknown

King size: 1 ¹⁄₄ in.,

Case: ³⁄₈ x 2 ³⁄₈ x 5 ¹⁄₂ in.

Wood and metal

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

April’s Featured Chess Set once belonged to Grandmaster William Lombardy, a 2019 inductee to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. Born in New York City, William Lombardy helped bring four world championship titles to the United States. Lombardy placed first in the 1957 World Junior Chess Championship, winning all 11 games. Three years later, he led the U.S. team to first place in the World Student Team Chess Championship (1960), scoring 11 wins and two draws. Lombardy also played a critical role as one of Bobby Fischer’s seconds in the 1972 World Chess Championship. He won three U.S. Open Chess Championships in 1963, 1965, and 1975 and played on seven U.S. Chess Olympiad teams between 1958 and 1978, including on the 1976 gold medal winning-team.

May

May’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history. May’s Featured Set is a generous donation to the collection of the WCHOF from chess collectors Bill and Barbara Fordney.

Jeu d'Échecs de Paris Monumental Chess Set, 1990

Matthew Grant

Jeu d'Échecs de Paris Monumental Chess Set

1990

King size: 2 ⁷⁄₈ in.,

Board: 23 ³⁄₁₆ x 23 ³⁄₁₆ in.

Hard gloss paper and cardboard

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, gift of Bill and Barbara Fordney

The Jeu d'Échecs de Paris Monumental Chess Set features many of the most famous landmarks from the City of Lights. Reigning as king and queen are the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. The bishops are the Panthéon, the final resting place of many of France’s most famous citizens, and Sacre Coeur. The knights are a pair of 18th-century sculptures created by artist Antoine Coysevox for King Louis XIV’s Chateau de Marly and which later overlooked the Tuileries Gardens. Notre Dame and L’Eglise Saint Sulpice, two of the city’s most famous churches, appear as the rooks. The pawns are Wallace Fountains, public drinking fountains donated to the city of Paris by Sir Richard Wallace following the Franco-Prussian War.

June

June’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history. This set is part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Napoleonic Chess Set, date unknown

Maker unknown

Napoleonic Chess Set

Date unknown

King size: Red: 4 ½ in.; Blue: 5 in.

Glazed and fired clay

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

An anonymous artist captures a military rivalry in clay in this month’s featured chess set. Two leaders, wearing bicorne hats, marshal their soldiers to war in this set. The bicorne became popular as part of European military uniforms in the 1790s, and the two leaders in this set demonstrate the two ways the hat was worn.

July

July’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Chess Set, date unknown

Maple Leaf

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Chess Set

Date unknown

King size: 3 ¼ in

Board: 15 ½ x 15 ½ in.

Plastic

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Selected in honor of Canada Day, this chess set features pieces modeled after members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The holiday marks the anniversary of the 1867 merging of the country’s original three provinces—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada—into one country. The bases of the pieces are emblazoned with a maple leaf, the national symbol of Canada.

August

Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history. August’s Featured Chess Set is on loan from fiber artist Kacey Cowdery.

Travel Chess Set by Kacey Cowdery

Kacey Cowdery

Travel Chess Set, 2009

King size: 1 1⁄8 in

Board: 10 x 14 in.

Travel case: 11 x 16 in.

Cloth, embroidery floss, and sewing thread

Courtesy of Kacey Cowdery

While working on her BFA at Maryville University, Kacey Cowdery faced the challenge to create a chess set in her senior design class. Students could choose their medium, and she chose fiber. Cowdery states she created the set in 1978, “when fiber was beyond the periphery of acceptable art—unless it pushed into those boundaries with creativity.” A couple of semesters previously, she had used bell peppers as her ‘go-to’ imagery, and thought “why not fall back on it again.” The travel chess set features snap on seeds, with each of the back rank pieces marked with embroidery. Of playing with the set, she states, “My daughter was a rather good player, I was not. I was able to win a few games with her until she became familiar with my stitched code on the play pieces.”

September

September’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history. This month’s featured chess set is a new donation to the collection of the WCHOF.

Wire Chess Set, 1955

Ayrton Robert Johnson

Hand-made Wire Chess Set

1955

King size: 5 ⅝ in.

Brass and silver wire

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, gift of Cathy Spengler

Created from carefully bent wire, the pieces in this set portray the pieces as elegant, energetic silhouettes. Born in Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia, at a young age Ayrton Robert Johnson moved to New York state with his family. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Agronomy at Cornell University, and he later earned a Masters of Arts in Education from the University of Rochester. After graduating, he taught high school chemistry in Ithaca, New York, until he retired in 1982. His daughter Cathy Spengler states that, “He was as much an artist by temperament as he was a scientist...Creating things was his primary pursuit and source of enjoyment outside of work, especially in retirement.” He created this unique chess set design while living for a year in Berkeley, California.

Check back next month for another Featured Set!