Pieces from the Jaques of London ‘signed first production’ club size chess and draughts set sold for £13,000 at Shaw’s Auction House.

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Cook’s ‘Ornamental Design for a set of Chess Men’ was daring in its relative simplicity and utility. The most striking pieces were a knight carved as a stallion’s head from the Elgin marbles and a bishop with a diagonal cut to indicate a mitre.

Key to its success were the support of a Hatton Garden purveyor of fine games and the era’s leading player. It was the combination of John Jaques, keen to embrace a design that could be produced at relatively low cost, and the celebrity endorsement of the English chess master Howard Staunton (1810-74) that proved unstoppable.

According to adverts in the Illustrated London News dated September 8, 1849, the first Jaques ‘Staunton’ pattern sets were available in “the finest African ivory (5 guineas), boxwood and ebony (£1 15s or club size £2 5s) and Wedgwood’s Carrara (£2 12s 6s)”.

All sorts of minutiae are involved in the dating of these early issues. Size, signatures, weights, materials, boxes and labels are all important.

The club size set with a 4½in (11½cm) king and knights with carefully carved heads offered for sale at Shaw’s Auction House in Blackburn on June 2, was a grail item for chess collectors. It dated from the first or second year of Staunton production when the boxes were issued with blue paper registration labels titled The Staunton Chessmen that were hand signed and numbered in ink by Staunton himself. Based on the serial numbers of the survivors, it is thought fewer than 700 of these ‘signed first production’ sets were issued before a facsimile signature was used.


Pieces from the Jaques of London ‘signed first production’ club size chess and draughts set sold for £13,000 at Shaw’s Auction House.

It was in relatively good condition. The 9 x 5in (23 x 17cm) dovetailed mahogany box with mortise lock and rounded corners was off its hinges and there was damage to several of the ebony pieces. The labels were fragmentary and rubbed but they had survived.

A full set of Jaques draughts was a bonus.

Auction house owner Callum Shaw who opened his saleroom in September 2023  told ATG the vendors from Newton-in-Bowland had hoped this family heirloom of several generations would sell but had no idea of the value. The three-figure estimate was quickly surpassed as pre-sale bidding rose to £1300 on the first day. The hammer price was £13,000 (plus 23% buyer’s premium) - a new house record.

The Scottish buyer Charles Todd is a collector of Jaques chess sets and had been searching for this model for some time. He told ATG he particularly admired the provenance and the honest, original condition of the set that was covered in years of grime and had not been subject to episodes of restoration. He has already received offers from fellow collectors but currently has no plans to sell.

The Staunton pattern remains the style required for chess tournaments today.

The rarest of the Jaques Staunton issues is the Wedgwood Parian ware Carrara set. Thought to have been made for less than a year, no complete set is known (four pieces were recently discovered by a dealer in the US) but at least two of the labelled carton-pierre boxes have survived. One of these, with the serial number 17 suggesting it was made in 1849 surfaced at H&H Auctions in Carlisle in 2012 when it sold at £5800.