When it comes to antique chess sets, they come in all manners and descriptions, to put it simply! From the overall style and design of the set, to the look and style of the chessmen, the materials they are made of, the board, how finely crafted the set is, its origin—if it’s an old set and exactly how old it is or the set is a reproduced version of a famous vintage style…there are a whole host of factors to consider.
Properly speaking though, an antique set by definition is an old set whose resale value depends on factors such as how attractive the set is, if it is still in good shape, etc. If you can find one such set whose price point is within your range and whose authenticity is not in question, that is perhaps the best thing—especially if you’re an avid collector. However, the catch there is that it is extremely difficult to come by such a piece. And when you do, the price can go up to thousands of dollars. This is why, in our list of antique chess sets, we have included sets that are either reproduced versions of a famous old style chess set (or a combination of styles) or, as in the case of the last item on our list, a new set that is designed in an unmistakably antique style. All three sets are extremely popular and come from reputable manufacturers, so you never need harbor any doubt regarding whether or not you are getting full value for your money on these deluxe antique chess sets.
On to our list, then!
This elegant antique set will readily grab your attention for its uniqueness—both in the design of the board and of the pieces. Designed by Aldo Marsili, the founder of the famous Italian Chess company Italfama, this Di Scacchi set, both in its minute attention to details as in its excellent craftsmanship, exudes a classic elegance that will delight all vintage chess set lovers.
The pieces are made of wood with detailed gold and silver-plated metal crowns and bases. Thoughtfully enough, the makers have equipped the bases with felt pads that will preserve the sheen of the playing surface. The chessmen also come with a protective coating that will resist wear and tear. No less striking is the chessboard cabinet, an assemblage of four different woods- briarwoods, mahogany, maple and walnut. The cabinet has two compartments with a lock and a tussled key but special mention must be made of the stunning visual design of the playing surface inlaid with intricate and attractive artwork. The board measures an 11 inch square and the king height is 3 inches. Make sure to check all the photos here so you get a better idea of what we’re talking about.
This set comes from the House of Staunton and if you’re familiar with the high end chess set market, this itself will give you enough indication of the superlative quality of this item. Specializing in Antique Staunton as well as in pre-Staunton sets, this Alabama-based company, spearheaded by the breathtaking designs of the ex-NASA scientist Mr. Frank Camaratta, has been central in reinvigorating the niche of luxury chess sets in recent times.
This Camaratta signature set has been designed by Mr. Camaratta himself and the style combines the famous Cooke set Staunton pieces with the Maestro’s Knight borrowed from another famous chessmen set, the Craftsmen. This will already evoke a strong sense of nostalgia to anybody familiar with old-style chess pieces. However, you don’t need to be a connoisseur to appreciate the value of this stunning set.
The white pieces in the set are made of bocote and the dark ones of natural textured boxwood. The board, with its detailed corners, its stylized African Palisander frame and spalted maple inlays is another thing of beauty. Handcrafted, the board uses African Palisander and Bird’s Eye Maple for the dark and light squares respectively. Also included in the package is a beautiful chessbox with green baize lining, quadrant brass hinges and inlaid accents that tastefully contrast with the color of the wood. You can safely lock your pieces in the box with a nice looking little key complete with a red tussle.
As for specs, the board is a 22.5 inch square with regular sized pieces. The tallest piece, the King, stands at 3.6 inch with a base diameter of 1.75 inch. At the back of the base, you’ll find a special pad with the Frank Camaratta signature printed over it. The House of Staunton logo is embossed on the lid of the chessbox. For pawn promotion, two additional queens are provided in the set. You may also opt to get, at additional cost, either a standard or a deluxe board bag especially designed for this set. Keep in mind though that this set is only custom designed on request, so you may have to wait a little (usually 4-6 weeks) to get the set in your hand once you’ve made your order.
Another wonderful reproduction from the House of Staunton (HoS), the pre-Staunton chessmen in this set will immediately capture your attention as much for their difference from regular chess pieces of today as by their own individual brilliance.
Known as the Calvert Pattern, this set of baluster like slender-stemmed chessmen predate us by more than 200 years. This style, showing a strong Arab influence in their semi-abstract patterns, with its black and red pieces was hugely popular in England around 1810 and was thus wrongly attributed to John Calvert, a famous chess manufacturer living in London at that time. In our opinion, the pieces, in their classic simplicity and elegance, carry a rare beauty with them that will hardly escape any connoisseur of vintage and classic chess sets.
This reproduction is an exact replica of the Calvert Pattern with the King height of 8.5 inches. You can buy the pieces individually but HoS offers a combo set with a beautiful Tiroir display board with Maple (light) and Walnut (dark) squares. You’ll find the HoS logo silkscreened on the board’s h1 square. The board, complete with a satin finish and a cherry frame, has a 17.5 inch square playing surface and features a storage compartment with two separate drawers.
Benefits of Antique Chess Sets
A really good antique chess set comes with more than one benefit. Firstly, it will act as a great accent piece to your living room. No matter what type of décor your room comes in, a quality antique chess set will always spread a little aura of elegance to its surrounding space. Also, anybody who has ever played on a great antique set will know that the sheer opulence of these sets add an extra dimension of joy and warmth to your favorite pastime. And finally, unlike themed chess sets, all good antique sets, if kept in proper condition, will always have a great resale value. An antique set is not just a chess set, but also a precious collectible and like all such items, its value will often mature with time.
Antique Chess Set Brands
As we’ve mentioned, the House of Staunton is the most famous name when it comes to antique and vintage chess sets, clocks as well as other antique board game items. The company also flaunts the largest line of Reproduced Antique Sets. In that, all serious chess lovers owe a big thanks to the company since it has kept alive, through its reproduced sets, many old style chessmen sets and boards that would otherwise have faded into oblivion. Also, Chessbazaar, though not as popular or well-known a brand as House of Staunton, deserves special mention for its huge offering of reproductions of famous old chess sets. Included in their repertoire are 1919 Marcel Duchamp Vintage Chess Set, 1950 Dubrovnik Chess Set, Reproduced Russian Chess Sets and French Lardy Chess Sets, and many more. Apart from the above two, Italfama is especially great in churning out vintage looking antique and luxury chess sets that also come in affordable price points. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a real antique set, any old set made by Drueke or Jaques of London will be a great buy given you have no doubt over the set’s authenticity.
Vintage Chess Sets—Average Price
Depending on the quality and the build of the reproduced set, an antique set can greatly vary in price. For instance, House of Staunton offers four products priced over $1,000. Apart from the one mentioned in our list, the other three are the popular and famous Imperial and Collector Chess Set, Savano Series Luxury Chess Set, and last but not the least, the Golden Collector Series (currently available at a whopping $6,295!). However, you may count the above as exceptions. Usually, you can find a lot of good antique and vintage reproduced chess sets in the $250-$500 range.
There are not too many dedicated brick and mortar chess shops around anymore. So, for the most part, you’ll need to rely on online stores. When you’re buying a highly priced item such as an antique chess set, more often than not the best choice is for you to buy the item right from the manufacturer’s own online store. Both House of Staunton and Italfama have their own online outlets (as do Chessbazaar), so you can purchase the items listed here from those outlets. However, and especially if you are in US, you may consider a number of reputable online chess stores such as chesssite.com, chesshouse.com and chessusa.com. Finally, you may also check up Amazon and see if you can find a better price from any other seller. However, if you are investing in an expensive product, you must carefully check the track record and reputation of the particular seller you’re going to buy from.
Choosing Your Antique Chess Set
When deciding on an antique set, the rule of the thumb is that you pay greatest emphasis on the maker or the brand. Many often make the common mistake of paying more attention to the look and design of the original set while forgetting to check on the reputation of that particular item and/or the brand that is offering the item. For example, just because you like the Calvert Set, you won’t pay a $500 to any company that is offering a reproduction. If you are buying from a physical store and has the opportunity of handling the pieces by yourself and you’re satisfied from what you see, then it won’t matter too much what brand the product comes from. However, since these days we’ll mostly make our purchase from an online store, it is highly important that you research the item thoroughly before making a decision.