14 February 2016

As Seen on 'Mad Men'

The very first post in the series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010) featured a chess set by 'Austin Enterprises for Aluminum Company of America (i.e. Alcoa)' along with the remark 'I noticed six [auctions] for aluminum chess sets by Austin Enterprises'. A few months later I posted on the theme in the same series -- Austin and Eames (January 2011) -- and asked, 'What's with all of these auctions for Austin Enterprises chess sets?'

I finally know why.

The composite image above shows the first six auctions (there were three more) returned by an eBay search on 'chess alcoa', i.e. sets sold over the past three months. The first auction was titled 'Vintage MCM 1962 Austin Enterprises ALCOA Aluminum Chess Board Set w/ Carry Case' and sold for US $1360 after five bids. The description said,

1962 Austin Enterprises ALCOA Aluminum Chess Board Set • With Wooden Carry/Display Case, Slide-off Plexiglass Cover • Vintage, Mid-Century Modern • Very RARE to Find, especially with Original Felt Board • Highly Collectible Item for any Chess Aficionado • Very Good to Excellent Vintage Condition • No Missing or Broken Pieces • A few minor blemishes on board's felt, barely visible • Some light scratches/scuffs on plexiglass • Board = 19 1/8" squared • Carry Case = 30 3/4" long, 6" tall, 2 1/4" wide • Pieces = 3 3/4" to 5" tall • Total Wt. 14 lbs. 8 oz.

In 1962, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) launched a marketing program to advance the selling of their aluminum products. Since everyone was obsessed with space in 1962, ALCOA figured what better marketing strategy than to make a really incredible, "space age" chess set. 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

That's the most detailed description I've seen about the set, but it doesn't explain its popularity. Moving to the second auction, it was titled '1962 Austin Enterprises / Alcoa Aluminum Chess Set "As Seen on Mad Men"'.

Mystery explained: Mad Men [Wikipedia]. In which season, on which episode was the set shown?

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