Recent research, however, points to these sets being made in Switzerland where they were advertised to tourists in catalogues.
Known for their fine carving and typically dating from the mid to late 19th century, such sets have a king that might depict Charlemagne. No surprise then that the chess collecting community refers to them as Swiss Charlemagne sets and came out in force to follow this auction.
As the better sets do, this one has pawns individually carved and in different poses rather than eight the same. Catalogued as ‘south German’, the lot came with an estimate of £3000-5000 that was a fair reflection of the value that most Swiss Charlemagne sets have sold for when they have occasionally surfaced at auction over the past 15-20 years.
One exception came at Christie’s in 2007 where the bidding reached £17,000.
The set consigned to Ewbank’s by a local private vendor was not in the best condition – the extensive array of photos included in the lot description showed losses including to the crowns of the kings and queens, the knights missing some hooves and so on – but it still achieved an impressive hammer price of £9000 in Surrey, selling to a bidder in Italy.
The market for chess-related items has undoubtedly quietened since the rules on selling antique ivory changed. However, collecting continues.
As implied by an extensive inscription, the souvenir chess piece offered at Lawrences (25% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne on July 11 was produced by Carlo Joseph and Arthur Alphonse Giuliano to commemorate a chess match played via telegraph.
To mark the completion of the Trans-Atlantic telegraph, a game began on May 31, 1897, between teams of five players each from the House of Commons in London and the House of Representatives in Washington. After moves were relayed back and forth for two days, the match was drawn with each side scoring 2.5 points.
Standing 3in (7.5cm) high, the gilt bronze ‘rook’ is set to the top with a section of the telegraph wire laid by the Anglo-American Telegraph Co of London and the Western Union Telegraph Co of New York. It is signed C&AG to the base.
A number of these souvenirs were produced at the time by the Giulianos (sons of the celebrated Italian artist jeweller Carlo Giuliano) and they occasionally appear for sale.
One took £3600 at Mallams in Oxford a year ago. At Lawrences this one made £2000.