Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - January - 2008 Issue

Antiquarian Chess Literature from The Book Collector


Antiquarian Chess Literature from The Book Collector.

By Michael Stillman

This is our first review of a catalogue from The Book Collector of Fort Worth, Texas, and it can certainly be described as serving a book collecting niche: Antiquarian Chess Literature. This is a catalogue for collectors aptly known as "chess nuts." It is a combination of learning guides and histories of famous players and matches. With two exceptions (one from the 17th century and one from the 18th), all were published in the 19th century.

As old as these works are, they are modern compared to the game itself. It likely dates back 1,500 to 2,000 years, originating in Asia, most likely India. The "modern" game is not quite so antiquarian, rules similar to those used today developing around the same time Gutenberg was designing his press. By the 18th century, the game had become a fixture in certain coffeehouses, but it wasn't until the mid-19th century that serious competitive tournaments began. At that time, it was the Germans, rather than the Russians, who dominated.

For those not aficionados of the game, it may be hard to understand the level of devotion if not obsession among those who love the sport. Think of it like Americans and football. Amateurs study the moves of the masters as if they were running a fantasy football team. It is a passion and a love, and for those who feel it, here is your catalogue. The following are a few selections.

Item 1 is the first work in this chronological catalogue: The Royall Game of Chesse-Play. Sometimes The Recreation of the late King... The late King was Charles I of England, and he should have spent more time playing chess instead of antagonizing his subjects. Seven years prior to this book being published, Charles became the "late" king when his subjects executed him. However, this all strays from the real topic of this book -- chess. The book is a study of opening moves by Giaccino Greco, a great Italian chess player who lived from 1600-1634. Priced at $3,500.

Greco was obviously highly respected as almost a century after his death, they were still publishing Le jeu des Eschets, Traduit de l'Italien de Gioachino Greco (The game of chess, translated from the Italian, of Giaccino Greco). This title was published in Paris in 1714. Item 2. $1,300.

Francois-Andre Philidor was a musician who became quite likely the best chess player of the 18th century. There were no official championships at the time, but in 1741, he went to London and over the next few years beat the top competitors of the era. Returning to Paris in 1744, one of his tricks was to play two opponents at the same time -- blindfolded. His later victories over Philip Stamma, probably the preeminent chess master at the time, established Philidor as the unofficial world champion. Item 3, published in 1808 (13 years after Philidor died), is Studies of Chess: Containing a Poem by Sir William Jones, a Systematic introduction to the Game; and the whole Analysis of Chess. Two volumes. $2,000.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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