27 January 2011

Austin and Eames

What's with all of these auctions for Austin Enterprises chess sets? My very first post in this fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price featured one such auction and mentioned, 'I noticed six for aluminum chess sets by Austin Enterprises. Five of the sets sold in the range of $555 to $760.' Today I find that eight sets were offered over the last two weeks (one of them twice), with five selling in the range US $257.50 to $629.99. The one that sold for the least received the highest number of bids (19 bids).

The description on the set pictured second from the left in the top row (14 bids, winning bid $609.99) said,

Up for bidding is an Austin Cox Enterprises Aluminum Chess Set and Board dated 1962. In 1962, as part of a "space age" marketing program, ALCOA Aluminum commissioned designer Austin Cox to design several chess sets to be made completely out of aluminum.

This auction includes an original set, the original 30 inch walnut display case and an original aluminum and felt chess board. Each Pawn measures 33 /4 inches tall. The King measures 4 7/8 inches. The board measures 13 3/4 inches square.

An excellent example of 1960s "Modernist" design, each piece is cut from a formed bar of aluminum. From the face, the black and white pieces look the same. But the uncut sides of the black pieces are anodized black.

The set that sold for $257.50 came with a warning: 'This set DOES NOT come with a display case or chess board.' Are the case and board worth $350, or is the lower winning bid because 'This auction is available to U.S. bidders only'?

For more images, see a Google image search on 'chess set austin enterprises'. That same search without restrictions turns up pages like 1962 Austin Enterprises Chess Set ('This amazing modernist / Eames era chess set by Austin Enterprises from 1962 is swell!') with 45 comments.

The name Eames is frequently associated with these sets. As far as I can tell, it refers to Charles and Ray Eames [Wikipedia], 'American designers, who worked in and made major contributions to modern architecture and furniture. They also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art and film.' As impressive as the connection might be, I don't believe they had anything to do with the Austin Enterprises set.

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