The Staunton chessmen is
the standard pattern for chess pieces used in all world chess federation and
United States Chess Federation events.
The increased interest in chess in the 19th century brought about a renewed demand for a more universal model for chess pieces. The variety and styles of the conventional form begun in the fifteenth century had expanded tremendously by the beginning of the nineteenth century. Some of the more common conventional types popular during the period included the English Barleycorn, the St. George, the French Regence and the central European Selenus styles. Most pieces were tall, easily tipped and cumbersome during play. But their target sin was the uniformity of the pieces within a set. A player's unfamiliarity with an opponent's set could tragically alter the outcome of a game. By the early decades of the nineteenth century, it was all too clear that there was a great need for a playing set with pieces that were easy to use and universally recognized by players of diverse backgrounds. The solution, first released in 1849 by John Jaques of London, sport and games manufacturers since 1795, of Hatton Garden, London, England, was to become known as the Staunton chess set after the Shakespearean scholar, author and the world champion, Howard Staunton ( 1810 - 1874).
On March 1, 1849 the Staunton pattern was
first registered by Nathaniel Cook (patent number 58607). At the time,
there was no provision for the registration of any design or articles of
ivory. Registration was limited to
Class 2 articles made chiefly of wood. Prior to
that, the pieces most commonly used were called the St. George design, followed
by the Calvert, Edinburgh, Lund and Merrifield designs. Cook registered his
wooden chess pattern under the Ornamental Designs Act of 1842. Although Nathaniel Cook has been
credited with the design, it may have been conceived by his brother-in-law,
The design of the knight came from the Greek
horse of the Eglin Marbles in the British Museum (brought to the museum in
The appearance of the new chessmen was based on the neoclassical style of
the time, and the pieces were symbols of "respectable" Victorian
society: a distinguished bishop’s miter, a queen's coronet and king's crown, a
knight carved as a stallion's head from the ancient Greek Elgin Marbles and a
rook streamlined into clean classical lines, projecting an aura of strength and
security. The form of the pawns may have been based on the Freemasons square
and compasses. However,
another theory of the pawns form is derived from the balconies of
London Victorian buildings. There were also practical innovations: for the
first time a crown emblem was stamped onto a rook and knight of each side, to
identify their positioning on to the king's side of the board.
In September 1849 the manufacturing rights
were bought by John Jaques of London, workers of
ivory and fine woods. The sets were made
in wood and ivory. The unweighted king was 3.5 inches
in size. The weighted king was 4.4 inches in size. Jaques
removed much of the decorative features that topped earlier chess patterns, and
was able to manufacture the new design at less cost. The king was represented
by a crown and the queen was represented by a coronet.
Some of the ebony and boxwood sets were weighted with lead to provide added
stability and the underside of each piece was covered with felt. This afforded
the players the illusion that the chessmen were floating across the board. Some
ivory sets were made from African ivory. The sets typically came in a caron-pierre case, each one bearing a facsimile of
Staunton's signature under the lid.
On September 8, 1849 the first wooden chess
sets from Jaques was available. The first sets actually
had a different pattern to the King's Rook and King's Knight that distinguished
it from the Queen's Rook and the Queen's Knight.
On the same day that the Jaques
chess sets were available, Howard Staunton recommended and endorsed the sets in
the Illustrated London News. Nathaniel Cook was Staunton's editor at the
Illustrated London News. The ad that appeared in the newspaper called it Mr.
STAUNTON's pattern. The ad that first appeared in the Illustrated London
News, September 8, 1849 read:
"A set of Chessmen, of a pattern combining elegance and solidity to a
degree hitherto unknown, has recently appeared under the auspices of the
celebrated player Mr. STAUNTON. A guiding principle has been to give by their
form a signification to the various pieces - thus the king is represented by a
crown, the Queen by a coronet, &c. The pieces generally are fashioned with
convenience to the hand; and it is to be remarked, that while there is so great
an accession to elegance of form, it is not attained at the expense of
practical utility. Mr. STAUNTON'S pattern adopts but elevates the conventional
form; and the base of the Pieces being of a large diameter, they are more
steady than ordinary sets.".
Later, Staunton began endorsing the set and
had his signature on the box of Staunton chess pieces. One of Staunton's chess
books was given free with every box of Staunton chess set. The first 500 sets were numbered and signed
by Howard Staunton.
The Staunton set obtained the stamp of approval of the World Chess
Federation (FIDE), when in 1924 it was selected as their choice of set, for use
in all future international chess tournaments.
In 1935 the Jaques company no longer made ivory Staunton sets.
During World War II Jacques was asked by the
British government to mass produce chess sets for the troops. The factory was
later bombed by the Germans and destroyed.
At the start of the 1978 World Championship
match in Baguio, Philippines there wasn't a Staunton chess set in the city.
Someone had to drive to Manila to find a Staunton chess set, which arrived just
15 minutes before the start of the scheduled match.