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.