The king and queen, each with a distinctive heart-shaped face and JM seal, stand 9in (22cm) high with the pawns, in the form of winged figures, around 7in (18cm). The 2ft (61cm) square board set with ceramic tiles is inscribed Made by John Maltby to Celebrate the Millennium 2000AD.
Various artists were asked to commission a piece for New Ashgate’s 2000 exhibition. Such was the level of interest in the Maltby chess set, it was decided to hold a lottery to identify the winning buyer.
It was the purchaser from 21 years ago who consigned it for sale at Ewbank’s (25% buyer’s premium) in Surrey on July 29 with an estimate of £4000-4500. In fact, bidding reached £9000, one of the highest prices for a Maltby work.
Box to match
Sometimes in the niche market of chess collectables, the box can be almost as important as its contents.
The sale at Bellmans (22% buyer’s premium) on August 3-5 included an early Staunton pattern set by Hatton Garden purveyor of fine games John Jaques. These, the first Jaques sets advertised in the Illustrated London News dated September 8, 1849, were sold in two types of ‘packaging’: dovetailed mahogany hinged-topped boxes and ‘the unique box of carton-pierre resembling richly carved ebony’.
Designed by one Joseph L Williams, these Gothic revival caskets are distinctive for their castellated corners and pierced chess pieces and were available in three sizes.
In the first two years of Staunton production, the boxes carried paper registration labels titled The Staunton Chessmen that, along with a printed description of the box and its contents, were hand signed and numbered by English chess master Howard Staunton (1810-74). Up to 1000 sets were signed in this way before a facsimile signature was used.
The example at the West Sussex saleroom was in poor condition but enough of the label survived to see it had held a boxwood and ebony set priced at £1/15 shillings and was signed and numbered in ink 255.
Together with a matching folding chess board and pieces marked by Jaques (in relatively good condition save some small chips), it took £3500 (estimate £1000-2000).
Back in 2012, Carlisle’s H&H Auctions sold a similar box with a paper label reading Carrara Set With Text-Book and Carton Pierre Box £2.12.6 that was numbered in ink 17. Although devoid of contents and in poor condition, it sold at £5800.