02 February 2014

Luxury Chess Sets

In this fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I look for two attributes after chess, eBay, and price. The first is novelty: the item should be one I haven't covered before. The second is visual: the item should have an accompanying image that shows why it is special.

As I noted in the previous post, Alekhine Dozes at the Board, the series is suffering from a small drought just now. There is less on offer after the year-end holiday season and I've already covered many of the unusual items. The less covered categories, e.g. books, are visually unattractive. What is less interesting than a photo of a tattered book cover with a broken spine even if it sold for $1000?

So it's back to Chess Set Brands and Character Families for a look at specifics. Even before opening a popup window for the list of all eBay's choices, the top five brands and character families are shown to the left of the page. Today's list has the following.


  • Cardinal Industries (164)
  • Drueke (197)
  • House of Staunton (283)
  • Mattel (113)
  • Parker Brothers (231)

Character Family:

  • Harry Potter (186)
  • Lord of the Rings (181)
  • Star Wars (174)
  • The Simpsons (107)
  • Transformers (56)

Somewhat surprisingly, for me at least, the most popular of those choices is an upscale retailer, the House of Staunton. The current list of their recently successful auctions looks like this:-

House of Staunton on eBay

Since their most expensive items were all 'Best offer accepted' or 'Buy It Now', it's safe to conclude that the company is selling directly to individual customers. We don't have to scroll down too far to find the first competitive auction. An item titled 'Arrezo Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" King - Blood Rosewood' sold for US $740 after 48 bids. A little further down is an 'Arrezo Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" King - Genuine Ebony', which sold for $600 after 34 bids.

The seller's page, hstaunton on eBay, tells us, 'Based in United States, hstaunton has been an eBay member since Jun 06, 1998'. The seller's store, eBay Stores > The House of Staunton, currently lists 199 results, with the top items priced at $1995. The company also maintains an off-eBay site, called House of Staunton, where we learn,

The History of the Staunton Pattern Chess Pieces • During the first half of the 19th century, a surge in the global popularity of chess brought about the demand for a uniform model of chess pieces. While the variety and styles of chess pieces that were in use at the time were extensive, they were decorative in nature and considered unsuitable for play. It is important to remember that chess has historically been enjoyed by the wealthy, a fact that is reflected in the artistic designs of chess sets that dominated the marketplace.

While aesthetically beautiful, the chess pieces of the period were not very practical. The chess pieces were expensive to produce, cumbersome to use, prone to tipping over and had such ornate details that they were unable to withstand the wear and tear of regular use. However the greatest disadvantage of these chess sets was the lack of uniformity of the pieces within a chess set - a player's unfamiliarity with a particular chess set could affect the outcome of the game.

Complaints such as these led to the search for a standard design of chess pieces. On September 1, 1849, #58607 - An Ornamental Design for a Set of Chess-Men was registered by Mr. Nathaniel Cooke under the British Ornamental Designs Act of 1842.

The rest of the story is one of the longest enduring traditions in chess, Staunton style chess pieces. Almost 165 years later, the design lives on as the most popular brand on eBay.

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