06 December 2020

Marquetry and Pyrography

The last time I featured a chess set on Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), was Vasarely Set, Board, or Both? (November 2019). I started that post saying, 'We don't see many chess sets here on...', so here we go again.

The item's description said, 'Antique Marquetry Folding Book Style Chess Set - Azerbaijan or Soviet/Russia'. It sold for 'US $875.00 or Best Offer'; eBay won't say which...

The item is not easy to describe, so let's start with the description by the seller:-

This early 20th century board is a show-stopper -- we feel lucky to have had it in our collection. Time and again people have commented on both how beautiful it is and how they've never seen anything like it.

The title's 'Book Style Chess Set' is shown in the composite image above. The top row shows the book's two covers, and the bottom row shows the book being opened, then lying flat. The item description continued,

This is no-doubt handmade. Both the exterior and interior of the board feature marquetry edges and details. Even the folding side is inlaid with stripes of wood of varying colors. There are also copies of religious paintings on both the front and the back -- very beautiful.

What's marquetry? Wikipedia says, Marquetry: 'the art and craft of applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures.' Back to the item description:-

The interior has two large cut-outs with scalloped edges where the pieces can be kept. The playing board itself is marquetry with pyrography letters/numbers along the edges denoting the squares.

When lying open, the measurements are 23"x14", with the playing surface measuring 10.25" x 10.25". The hand-carved pieces (in blonde and red) are 3" (tallest piece). They fit perfectly on the board, but we don't think they're original to the board itself. The board is expertly done and the pieces are more rustic -- definitely a different maker. Either way, the estate they came from had them paired together, and so we'll keep them that way.

The "book" is secured by two brass hinges and a brass hook. That said, the book has warped slightly over time, and we don't force it all the way closed anymore. Additionally, there is a crack (to the lacquer only) on the front and a few small stress cracks to the interior lip of one side of the opening for pieces (likely from being forcibly closed at some point). Don't fear though -- the playing surface is perfect and the book both stands and lays nicely.

This is truly an antique one-of-a-kind handmade piece. The only others we've seen like it can be found in current day Azerbaijan or in the Soviet Union.

What's pyrography? Wikipedia again; Pyrography: 'the free handed art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks resulting from the controlled application of a heated object such as a poker. It is also known as pokerwork or wood burning.'

The seller of this item did a great job of explaining a unique chess set. What a difference that makes with sellers who say only, 'Old chess set', in the description.

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