In my recent post on Chess, Ebay, Christmas, and Paintings, I noted that there were 'plenty of interesting items to choose from'. Besides the paintings (there were two I could have used) there were a couple of books that caught my interest. Why they caught my interest I can't explain, except to provide material for another post.
The first book auction was titled 'Rare Signed 1st Edition "An Essay Toward Making The Game Of Chess Easily Learned"', subtitled 'Signed By Author, Edmund Hoyle & The Publisher, Thomas Osborne'. It sold for US $2600 after a single bid. The description said,
Extremely old & rare 1st Edition volume of "An Essay Toward Making The Game Of Chess Easily Learned". This book was printed in 1761 in London, England. Its author Edmond Hoyle was world renowned for many of his treatises on learning how to play different games. This first edition is signed by the author and by the publisher Thomas Osborne. This is because there were many pirated additions, so for many years every genuine book bore the signature of the author, Edmund Hoyle. Many times the publishers name was also signed as is the case with this edition, where you can easily see the signature of the publisher, Thomas Osborne, underneath the author's signature.
The book can be browsed on Google Books: An Essay Towards Making... It consists of 40 game fragments illustrating the opening and a few basic endgames.
The second book auction was titled '1821 v. Rare CHESS AUTOMATON KEMPELEN * The First Edition * Illustrated'. It sold somewhere between $4000 and $6500, 'Best offer accepted'. The description included a transcription of the book's title page,
AN ATTEMPT TO ANALYSE THE AUTOMATON CHESS PLAYER, OF MR. DE KEMPELEN. WITH AN EASY METHOD OF IMITATING THE MOVEMENTS OF THAT CELEBRATED FIGURE. ILLUSTRATED BY ORIGINAL DRAWINGS. TO WHICH IS ADDED, A COPIOUS COLLECTION OF THE KNIGHT'S MOVES OVER THE CHESS BOARD. LONDON; PRINTED FOR J. BOOTH, DUKE STREET, PORTLAND PLACE. 1821.
followed by technical and biographical notes:-
Custom made drop down box with morocco title label to front board, original paper covered boards, lacking the upper cover, spine rubbed with loss, some light spotting and minor marking but generally in very good condition. An octavo volume, it measures approximately 23cm (9") 15cm (6cm (0.5cm (¼"). Pagination pp. , -40 collated and complete with the half-title and 10 plates (including frontispiece).
Robert Willis (1800-1875), polymath, engineer and architectural historian. Willis was Jacksonian Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Here he was noted for his unique blend of mathematics, natural philosophy, and -- an enduring passion -- animal mechanism.' He specialized in the study of mechanism, extending the earlier researches of Kempelen into speaking machines, 'he furnished practical experiments which analysed and imitated mechanically the human vowel sounds'. 'In 1820 he went with his sister Mary to London's Spring Gardens to scrutinise Wolfgang von Kempelen's (1734-1804) automaton chess player. Having established that there was room for an adult to lurk within, mimicking machine intelligence, he published in 1821 an expose which Edgar Allan Poe passed off as his own in 1836'. (ODNB). An interesting and curious book, it is one of the great rarities of both chess and automaton literature.
The book can also be browsed on Google Books: An Attempt to Analyse the Automaton Chess Player... It contains a number of 'plates' showing the construction of the automaton.
The bookplate of the Google copy ('Ex libris Silas W. Howland') is shown on the left. I've seen the same bookplate and source ('Harvard College Library') stamped on other antiquarian chess books available on Google Books.