My first chess set was a SelRight Chess for Juniors set by the Selchow & Righter Company. It had flat cardboard pieces, with their movements marked on them - a teaching set - given to me by my parents, perhaps for Christmas when I was about seven or eight. It is long gone now. This page chronicles the Chess Sets I have, the others I wish for and the great variety of those are to be found.
My second set was a homemade set - also now long gone - which I made from a bunch of odd shaped plastic tubes I scrounged up and dowel, I spray painted the pieces metallic blue and red using model paints. Pawns were dowels glued to squares of cardboard. I got the idea from a library book full of pictures of fancy chess sets.
When I was about ten, I purchased a Black and White Plastic E. S. Lowe's 1959 Renaissance set from a newspaper advertisement all the way from a Denver Department Store! I was very excited when it arrived. Unweighted, I glued lead fish weights in the pieces myself. I still have it, though a number of the weights are gone.There are quite a few of these available in Ebay's Chess Vintage - Pre-1970 pages. Two other plastic medieval themed sets were popular in the 60's - the Kingsway Florentine Chess Set, and the Sculpted Gothic Chess Set (1957) by Ganine. These are frequently found on Ebay.
I participated in Chess Club at Horace Mann Junior High and I remember learning the Sicilian opening from a Fred Reinheld book (which I still have) and the rush it gave me when I started winning, at least for a while. At Wasson High School, the Chess Club was my main extra-curricular activity, it was Club of the Year in 1968, in part due to a speech I wrote, but didn't give. I had a Plastic Red and White Weighted Staunton set, which saw a lot of use at lunches and after school in the cafeteria until it was stolen at lunch. Unable to get another Red and Ivory one, I got the Black and White Plastic Staunton one which I still have. Chess Clubs nowadays use Vinyl or Mousepad boards, plastic Staunton pieces, and tournaments require clocks. Cajun Chess is a good source for a club's needs and offers great wholesale prices.
Though I played a few games in College, my interest in Chess waned for quite a few years - marriage, family and career had my attention. But in the mid 80's, I purchased a Fidelity Electronics Chess Challenger and played with it quite a bit, though I would get frustrated when it would call for a move that wasn't and I would realized I had made a mistake earlier moving a piece.
When my son set off for his travels courtesy the U.S. Navy in the late 90's to the far east, I asked him to find me a neat chess set. He came home with two.
The first he bought in Korea and it is an Oriental set, with Chinese figures - a pseudo ivory figures stained purple and brown in board box. The bald headed bishops and the knights riding dragons are my favorite pieces. I haven't yet seen anything like it on the internet. The board is not right however, it is a kind of green and yellow color and the squares are a bit small - this set cries for a fancy tiled board with white and lime green squares, and maybe some Chinese characters on them, something I could probably add to my "whishful thinking" list. But the inlaid mother-of-pearl board I got from the Nile Shop in Cairo was just right to go with these chessmen.
The second set came from Surabago, Java - similar sets are found on the internet as made in Bali. He got this Hindu gods set from a rather pushy street vender, with the usual haggling over price, so this one may be a knock off of these. Similar sets are sold by Novica It has a fancy carved round wooden box with legs that insert in slots. Inside is a Backgammon board. The pieces represent a bunch of Hindu gods and demons - and piece recognition takes a bit of time. I had trouble telling which were the knights and which were rooks - I decided to use height to determine that. The rooks look like fatter pawns. The board doesn't quite fold open right leaving a gap between the fourth and fifth ranks. Again the squares are a bit small for the pieces. I will probably use my walnut inlay board when playing with this set. The pieces stained red brown and black are not weighted or felted, something I might do one of these days. Their bases are stacked flat chunks of wood glued together, tops are carved.
When my wife went on a mission trip to Hungary and Poland in 2003, she got me a really cute set in Krakow, Poland. I have found it on the internet described as a "Consul" design chess. Similar sets can be found in European Crafts Ebay Store; at Mac's Bargains or The Woodland Gallery or Handmade Chess from Poland. The pieces are carved wood, a light colored natural wood for white and painted blue for black. The tips of the crowns on the royalty are colored in the opposition's colors. The case, lined in red felt, has blue and natural squares, with notched lines between them, and the files and ranks are labeled for algebraic notation. Again the sqares are a bit small, the tightness of the pieces making play a bit harder.
About the same time, I started playing Chess again at the Everett Chess Club, the Wizards of the Coast store chain (purchased by Hasbro) was taken out of the retail business and they had a big sell off of merchandise. I took advantage and bought at half price or better a nice large Wooden Staunton Set made in India with Walnut inlaid Board. Someday I would like to build a small table top to hold the board, and put it on the well turned legs of an old stool my wife has. Fine wooden sets can be gotten through The Chess Piece and I have other links below as well.
I also got an Ivan II the Conqueror Talking Chess Computer and a small folding magnetic chess set. I wasn't sure at first about Ivan, but I am using the pieces from my Chess Challenger on it - they are much nicer. the Screen keeps me from making the kind of mistakes I made before. The sound is ok to live with, and can be turned off, and I sometimes win too. I also got a Saitek Touch Screen Chess computer which is very easy to carry around, but much harder to beat than the Ivan II. Computers play chess differently than people do - and the Saitek is pretty agressive. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess (2nd Edition) by Patrick Wolff has a couple of chapters on how computers play chess, and some hints on how to play them. He had a part in programming Deep Blue, the IBM computer that beat Garry Kasparov.
Discovering the bargains on Ebay, I purchased a Marble or Alabaster Chess set with stone board case possibly from Chiellini of Italy, while the pieces will take a bit of adjusting too, especially the knights, it has a nice feel with the weight of the pieces and looks very nice on display. This set is frequently found on Ebay - search for "Soapstone Chess". Sometimes these sets are claimed to come from India.
My Isle of Lewis Chessmen were based on a 12th Century Scandinavian set and used in the first Harry Potter movie. The Plastered Pawn sells cast gypsum replicas of this and other ancient sets in finished or unfinished kits. I "finished" this one. A future project might be a leather board, with celtic designs tooled into the white squares and around the borders!! To learn more about these chess men see The Lewis Chessmen: Unmasked by David Caldwell
I have a Excalibur GameTime Digital Chess Clock (though I thought about the DiGi Blitz Digital Chess Clock) a Mousepad chess board (under the Lewis pieces, which unfortunately smells like an old air mattress); and a Deluxe chess bag to carry a set, a vinyl board and a clock for tournament play.
One of my favorite sets is a Chess Set hand carved out of red oak by Jim Arnold, who makes a interesting variety of custom themed Art-carved Wooden Chess Sets as well. Jim Arnold can be commissioned to do unique and special sets and devotes as much attention to the board's theme as he does to the pieces.
I bought a hand made chess set made out of old Radio Vacuum Tubes which would look nice on a mirrored glass board through and Ebay auction. The set is one of 50 made 30 plus years ago by Mark McKinley and sold at Higbee's Department store in Cleveland, Ohio. The original was on a clear plexiglass board - click the picture to see it.
In 2005 on a mission trip to Uganda, I purchased a set in Africa. The pieces, abstract animal figures, are carved out of Kisii Soapstone in Kenya. The board is also stone. The pieces show individually - the black royalty are shorter than the white - the queens face opposite directions, the pawns vary some in size. The other pieces are not exact copies of each other. Damaged some in travel, I had to do a little repairwork. I still hope to get an carved Wood Set from Kenya, Uganda or Malawi)
I have an Oriental Set with Chinese Myth Character Pawns modelled after the Eight Immortals which would be a nice storytelling set.
I have an Alice in Wonderland set found on Ebay. There are a number of sets on that theme. See Alice in Wonderland Chess Sets at the White Rabbit Shop in Carmel, CA.; Tenniel inspired sets at The Chess Piece and an Alice inspired set at Wonderland ChessI have Whimsical Resin set like the Frog Kingdom Set (which I bought on Ebay). A similar frog set is Frogs vs. Mice by Paolo Chiari. (I am kind of partial to frogs. See my Frog and Mushroom Chess Sets page (pdf) ) There are all sorts of "themed" Chess sets. I have a cute ceramic Teddy Bears Set that I still need to paint. And a small Aztec Themed Jade and White Travel Set that is both cheap and unplayable.
I have added to my collection a Regency Wooden Set, and a St. George Chess Set. I have written an article on the conventional chess sets which proceeded Staunton's. Someday I would like to find both a Barleycorn; and a set similar to Washington's.
I have two fancy weighted Staunton Sets perfect for play - one is a House of Staunton Hi-Gloss Red and Ivory Laquered Set with two extra queens and a nice dark burl chess board from Chester's- both have 4 Queens
Other carved wooden sets include: a Handcarved Rosewood and Ebony Wood Lotus Set from India, Other Carved sets include a carved "round-base" Chess set from India, A "Japanese" Carved Wooden set - from India (I have two sets - so I can use the pieces to play Tafl)
Some of my unusual Chess set include a Peruvian Handpainted Inca Imperial City Set (From Novica and the Huaman Paucar Family); A Nuts and Bolts Set (Found on Ebay), and one of those cheap Glass Chess sets (scrounged up by my Son-in-Law).
I got four of my sets from Chesspiece. Two, the Muslim, and the Turkish Chess set, are bone, and reflect the Islamic tradition of non-representable art. The other two are carved wood - a Set of Canon Chessmen (the bishop is a pile of cannon balls, and the rooks are cannons) and a Spanish Pulpit Set.
There is something almost alive about chess pieces. Well designed pieces have both visual and tactile qualities of shape and form. They are meant to be touched. As soon as the game begins they take on personality and you can almost feel their power. The Maryhill Museum in Washington State's Columbia Gorge has an excellent collection of chess sets and a couple of books have been written by their Art director, Colleen Schafroth. We drove down for a special exhibit - but their regular collection alone is worth the trip, if not the beauty of the Columbia Gorge.
There are all sorts of interesting Chess sets - Just browse through the links on my Unusual Sets page!!
So these are my chess sets at the moment - I have others on my "whishful list" as well:. For more daydreams . . .