Staunton Chess Pieces
"A set of Chessmen of a pattern combining elegance and solidity to a degree hitherto unknown…
Staunton chess pieces
… 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."
Illustrated London News, September 8, 1849.
Howard Staunton (1810-1874, left) was an English chess master and unofficial World Chess Champion. He was also a newspaper columnist, author, and Shakespearean scholar. The style of chess figures he endorsed in 1849 became known as the Staunton pattern. A regular chess columnist in the Illustrated London News, Staunton not only endorsed the product for Jaques of London but promoted it actively, deriding competing designs.
John Jaques and Nathaniel Cook
The Staunton set was released by the sport and games manufacturer John Jaques of London. The design is thought to be the combined work of Jacques and Nathaniel Cook. The pieces were made from ebony or boxwood and weighted with lead to provide add stability, and their bases were covered with felt. Staunton received a royalty on each set sold.
Before the appearance of the Staunton design, each of the players tended to use their own set of pieces. There was a wide range of designs, which were often tall and easily knocked over during play. In addition, the pieces were more alike and a player's unfamiliarity with an opponent's set could influence the outcome of a game. By the early nineteenth century a need was recognised for a playing set of universal design with pieces that were easy to use by players of all nationalities.
One of the strengths of the Staunton design was the comparative abstraction of the style of each piece. The new motifs were a subtly compacted and streamlined synthesis of features from sets already available blended with elements derived from the neoclassical style of architecture popular at the time. Perhaps the fact that they were more universally symbolic rather than overtly figurative is one of the reasons for their longevity, and indeed their enduring beauty.
In 1890 the original design was altered a little to make it more robust and suitable for mass production. The Staunton set was approved by the World Chess Federation in 1924 when it was selected for use in all future international chess tournaments, after which it became, and still is, the de facto standard for Chess throughout the world.
[ First published August 2nd, 2005 ]