30 April 2017

Staunton's Text Book

Here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, we've seen books and we've seen Howard Staunton, as in Luxury Chess Sets (February 2014), but I can't remember seeing a book by Staunton discussing his chess sets. The auction for the book pictured below was titled '1849 Chess Players Text Book Staunton 1st ed Jacques, very rare, NOT the handbook; Issued to go with the classic sets he signed & endorsed'. The winning bid was GBP 370 (approximately US $478.69, according to eBay) after 22 bids from six bidders.

The auction's description was especially informative:-

AUTHOR: H Staunton
TITLE: Chess Players Text Book.
YEAR: c1859, very early edition.
SIZE: 4 in x 5 in approx
CONDITION: I am selling the usual rare and interesting bargains this week. This is a very nice find; I have not seen another copy in 20 years. No copies on COPAC (*). Note that this is his text book, not the very common hand book. It seems to date from 1849 when his sets were first produced and specifically mentions the signed boxes of which there were only 500. Original green publisher's paperback binding generally clean and bright but with a few marks here and there, front cover and first few pages off, spine mostly missing. Inscribed and dated 1859 inside. All edges gilt. Pages very clean, few pencil notes towards the end. Text block binding strong. Well worth having, this is hard to find, also an early and important work.

Along with the book's cover and price list of chess sets, both shown in the composite image above, was a scan of the book's preface. It said,

The following pages were written to accompany the very elegant Chess-men with which the Designers have complimented the Author by associating his name. Being intended only for beginners, they are divested as much as possible of whatever might appear perplexing or repulsive; and the examples for study presented in the order conceived to be the most natural and easy for apprehension.

To profit fully by these examples, the learner will do well, when he is thoroughly conversant with the preliminary matter of the first six chapters, to restrict himself to the examination of one position at a sitting. Let him commence, for instance, with the easy Check-mate of Diagram No. 4, and when he quite comprehends the object of each move, proceed to the next diagram, and the next, and so on through the whole, in the sequence in which they appear. He will soon master this series of short contests, wherein one or two pieces only are engaged on each side, and then be in a condition to enter on the study of the OPENINGS, when the conflict is begun with the full array of both armies in opposition.

In playing over the several demonstrations, his labour will be greatly lightened, and his progress facilitated, by the use of the Chess-men to which we have alluded. To say nothing of their unquestionable superiority in form and proportion to all others intended for actual play, the happy thought of distinguishing the Pieces appertaining to the King, so that no confusion can arise, throughout the longest game, between the King's Rooks and Knights and those belonging to the Queen *, renders them peculiarly adapted for the purposes of Chess Analysis; and is of itself sufficient, we hope, to entitle them to the preference of those amateurs who are seeking to improve their play.


* In the registered Chess-men, the King's Rook and Knight are distinguished from the same pieces on the Queen's side by a small crown stamped on their summit.

Note the classic advice to study the endgame first -- 'master this series of short contests, wherein one or two pieces only are engaged on each side, and then be in a condition to enter on the study of the openings' -- given over 150 years ago. Less classic is the necessity to distinguish the Rooks and Knights on the Kingside from those on the Queenside.

(*) COPAC: National, Academic and Specialist Library Catalogue (copac.jisc.ac.uk)

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