The confusion surrounding the Staunton Chess Set
Back in 2006, before The Regency Chess Company had been born, I sold a fairly cheap nasty Chinese made chess set on ebay. It was a classic Staunton pattern set of pieces with a board. A few days later I received a call from the buyer. A fairly stern middle-aged man who was furious that he’d been diddled. He thought I’d sold him a dud, a fake, a cheap knock off; that he’d become one of the thousands of people who’d been ripped off on ebay. His complaint was that I’d not sold him a ‘Staunton’ chess set. He wanted to see ‘Staunton’ branding on the box and believed that there was a company somewhere that made chess sets and above the door was a sign that read ‘Staunton’.
Things have certainly moved on a lot since those days of Chinese imports and ebay, but the misconception is still there among many, and you’d be easily forgiven for assuming the same as the angry middle-aged man did back in 2006. The reality however is that there isn’t any company called Staunton who make chess sets, there never was and probably never will be.
The Story of Staunton
The story of the Staunton Chess Set is a fascinating one. This website goes into more detail about how the pieces originated and the amazing story behind it. The key points are as follows
- The set is alleged to have been designed by Nathaniel Cook in the mid 1800s
- It was manufactured by Jaques Games in London
- It was endorsed by the champion chess player Howard Staunton
- Its amazing design lead it to become universally accepted very quickly
- The copyright for the design ran out in the first half of the 20th century
The name ‘Staunton’ came about due to the endorsement that set received from the chess champion Howard Staunton. He loved the set, put his name to it, but never manufactured a single one.
The Staunton chess set is now produced by a huge number of independent companies. There have been literally thousands of variations created, some that are very true to the original, others that have added huge detail and flamboyance to the design. There are taller ones, thinner ones, fatter ones, shorter ones, different colours, wider bases, narrower bases. It seems there is no end to the myriad of variations when it comes to this design.
The Jaques games company do actually still exist and more remarkably are still owned by descendants of the original founders. They still bring many Staunton sets to the market and even sell precise replicas of the early sets from the 1800s. It is worth noting however that they no longer manufacture any sets themselves – like most other chess retailers and wholesalers they are using factories in Asia to produce the sets. There is little doubt that the vintage re issue sets they sell are of excellent quality, easily comparable to the old British made ones. But they all come from a handful of skilled manufacturers abroad who also sell to the other reputable online chess retailers.
Want to buy a Staunton Chess Set?
My advice would be to choose the design you like the most, buy the best materials you can afford (ebony is best) and buy from which ever retailer you feel most comfortable using. There is no right place or wrong place to get the real deal when it comes to ‘genuine’ Staunton sets today.