CategoriesRegency Chess Co. NewsUncategorized

Ebony Chess Pieces – Are They a Good Investment?

Ebony has been prized for its density, dark colour and high sheen when polished since the beginning of recorded history, and remains one of the most sought after woods to use in the production of luxury chess pieces. However, this popularity, combined with the ebony tree’s rarity and the unusually long time it takes to reach maturity, have led to values of the wood reaching levels that may make its future use for chess pieces unviable, except at ultra-luxury price points. This, then, begs the question: are ebony chess pieces a good investment?

Why is Ebony So Expensive?

Ebony’s high price – many times more than common woods such as white oak – is the result of a combination of factors on the demand and supply sides. Its extremely high density (some varieties are so dense that they won’t float in water) and decorative nature have meant that it is highly sought after for use in a range of applications, from musical instruments to religious artefacts such as crucifixes.

On the supply side, ebony trees have historically been over-harvested in many countries, leaving relatively low numbers of the slow-maturing trees available for future generations to utilize. The trees themselves are fairly small, typically growing to no more than nine metres in height, and, as they don’t respond well to competition with other trees or plants, tend not to be densely packed. These factors, combined with the fact that the most desirable, darkest wood, comes from trees that are a century or more old, severely restrict supply.

Is Availability of Ebony Decreasing?

Several varieties of ebony are now extinct and Diospyros crassiflora, often known as Gabon ebony, African ebony, West African ebony, or Benin ebony, is listed as vulnerable under criteria A4c of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The majority of the world’s ebony trees are located in developing countries in Africa and Asia. The combination of attractively high prices for the wood, and high levels of poverty in these countries has often resulted in unsustainable, and sometimes illegal, harvesting of ebony trees. Gabon ebony, for example, has experienced a 50% population reduction in the past three generations, and even varieties that have a relatively stable population, such as Ceylon ebony, have been subject to exploitation restrictions in their native countries.

Whilst ebony as a whole is not currently subject to the kinds of regulations imposed on rosewood by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the current direction of travel for the wood is one of increasing scarcity and further trade restrictions.

 

What’s the Difference Between Ebony and Ebonised Chess Pieces?

Ebonised
Ebonised

When demand for ebony for use in furniture, decorative objects and musical instruments began to outstrip supply in the 19th century, craftsmen sought a process that would imbue more ubiquitous woods, such as boxwood, with the dark hue of ebony. The most effective mechanism they discovered was ebonizing, which uses the chemical reaction between the wood and an acidic solution to permanently alter the colour of the material. Unlike painting or staining, this alters the tone of the wood at the atomic level, creating a finish that has startling verisimilitude with real ebony. This Video explains the ebonising process and how the very convincing ebony look is achieved.

 

Ebony
Ebony

Of course, these pieces don’t attract the same kinds of values or investment potential as those made from actual ebony, but they do represent a more inexpensive entry point for those who appreciate the aesthetics of a traditional chess set.

Will My Ebony Chess Set Increase in Value?

 Whilst we can’t guarantee that any investment will appreciate over time, a Staunton set, with the black pieces in ebony, is the most likely of any chess set either to hold its value or become increasingly valuable over time.

The Staunton design is widely recognised as classic from an aesthetic point of view. Ebony sets usually take the basic Staunton features and add extra embellishments, particularly to the knights, which often have exceptionally detailed features. This level of craftsmanship is likely to become more expensive over time, as labour costs in India, where all of the most detailed sets are produced, increase, and the availability of skilled craftsmen declines. Combine these factors with the likelihood that ebony will become increasingly rare over the coming years, and the fact that chess has experienced a sustained upswing in popularity in the last decade, and you have a recipe for rising prices on the new market, which has a similar effect on used prices.

Ultimately, though, a chess set should be purchased with the aim of bringing joy to the individual who owns it. Whether that is through using it to play games or admiring it from an aesthetic viewpoint, its monetary worth will generally be a secondary consideration, albeit, one that can help to justify the initial outlay.

CategoriesRegency Chess Co. News

£2,500 Chess Tables Cause Controversy Amid ‘Levelling Up’ Spending On Chess In the UK

£2,500 ‘Levelling Up’ Chess Tables – Is This the Best Way to Promote Chess?

The British press has been awash lately with stories of councils in the north of England accessing so-called ‘levelling up’ funds from the government to install permanent chess tables in public parks. The initial reaction from the media and many members of the public has been primarily one of incredulity, especially after learning that each chess table costs in the region of £2,500.

One of the new £2500 tables in Hull, UK

What has been lost in this furore over expenditure, however, is whether this is the most effective mechanism to promote chess, and the benefits that it provides to cognitive development, to the public as a whole. Let’s examine the objectives of this particular scheme and determine whether evidence from similar projects in other countries suggests that it will achieve its aims.

What is ‘Levelling Up’?

At this point, for the sake of readers outside the UK, who are likely to have little knowledge of the current UK government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, it’s probably worth defining exactly what is meant by this phrase, and why it has led to funds being made available for installing these chess tables.

Two Politicians in the UK promoting ‘Levelling Up’

In basic terms, many politicians perceive there to be a significant north/south split in England, with the south of the country (and by this, they mean, predominantly London and its surrounding counties) being significantly wealthier than the north, where de-industrialisation has been a major factor in creating pockets of poverty. The ‘levelling up’ agenda is a response to this disparity in average earnings and productivity between the north and south, and makes funds available for a variety of infrastructure projects that aim to address this.

The money available for chess tables falls within the Levelling Up Parks Fund, which aims to improve access to quality green space and associated facilities within deprived areas. It should be noted that this is being provided in tandem with a wider £1,000,000 package to support primary school children in disadvantaged areas to learn and play chess, and to fund players who are competing at an international level.

The proverbial elephant in the room is the cost of each chess table – £2,500. Whilst this might seem excessive, it should be remembered that permanent concrete structures that are designed to withstand years of use and weathering from rain, wind and snow, are never inexpensive. A cursory trawl of the internet reveals that concrete tables of the kind installed in countless New York parks retail at $1,700 each, excluding installation costs. A recent BBC article on the subject highlighted critics of the scheme who cited the cost as their main objection.

Chess tables in Central Park New York

Is anybody actually using the tables?

The more pertinent question, then, is whether the presence of these tables encourages more people to play chess. Antonia Hoyle’s investigation in a recent article for The Telegraph seemed to suggest not; she visited Pearson Park in Hull, and was unable to find a single member of the public who would agree to play with her. However, had she travelled to a similar site in a New York park, she would have struggled even to gain access to a table, such is their popularity. Is it just the case that the people of Hull and New York are so dissimilar that what works in one city is anathema to another?

I don’t believe this is the case, and I think the reasons are twofold. First, any new venture or idea will take time to capture the public’s imagination; to proclaim something a failure after only a few days is to ignore the fact that many activities are slow burners and take months or years to gain popularity gradually. In relation to this, New York has had chess tables in many of its parks for over 70 years, allowing their use to grow organically over multiple decades. It’s likely that many decried the cost of their installation in the 1950s, yet today they are seen as a cultural landmark, and have featured in numerous films and TV series.

Of course, one potential barrier to use is the fact that chess boards require pieces in order for games to be played. This is, perhaps, another reason why the efficacy of the project shouldn’t be judged after a few weeks; using a chess table for an actual game of chess requires a certain amount of pre-planning, as few of us happen to carry around a full set of pieces on a regular basis!

Perhaps more useful for those who don’t own a chess set, will be the installation of garden sets in parks where the logistics can be managed by the park’s café. Although sometimes dismissed as gimmicky, garden chess represents a route into the game that is especially appealing to children, who enjoy the novelty of an oversized board and pieces.

So, could this funding be used in other, more efficient ways, to promote chess? Perhaps, but this is to ignore the fact that this is an ‘in addition to’ rather than an ‘instead of’ pot of cash. Other funds are being made available to promote the uptake of chess in primary school via more traditional mechanisms. The chess table programme is part of a funding scheme ring-fenced for capital projects, and it’s difficult to see how this could be diverted to any chess-related activity other than the current proposition.

Ultimately, this project may be more about visibility than anything else. In recent years the maxim ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ has been used as a rallying call by those who wish to see greater diversity of gender, race and sexuality in businesses, sports and politics. This can be equally applied to the world of chess; if the game has more presence in the popular consciousness, even if it’s only through the visibility of public chess boards, this may encourage more people to play it. And that can only be a good outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CategoriesRegency Chess Co. NewsThe Queens Gambit

New BBC series: Chess Masters, Has Chess Become Cool Again?

Has Chess Become Cool?

When a pop star includes passing references to chess in some of their songs, it’s not usually a big deal; after all, the game and its terminology have offered a rich vein of metaphors for songwriters to exploit over the years, making terms such as ‘checkmate’ or ‘pawn’ commonplace in the lyrics of modern music. If the pop star is the cultural phenomenon that is Taylor Swift, however, with a legion of fans avidly deciphering the precise meaning of each of her words, and she has also commissioned a giant chess board to form a centrepiece on the set of her record-breaking world tour, maybe it’s time to take notice. Chess is back in vogue and this time it’s cool.

The Quens Gambit effect

Image: CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX)

Of course, this is not altogether surprising. The 2020 Netflix miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, which follows the exploits of fictional grandmaster, Beth Harmon, clocked up an enormous 64 million account viewers in its first month of airing, and, with its sumptuous mid-century aesthetic, made chess both sexy and popular. As any chess retailer will tell you, this led to dramatically increased sales, as demand multiplied by as much as a factor of ten in just a few weeks, following the release of the show.

BBC revamp old chess TV show

So, it is against a backdrop of greatly increased interest in the game that the BBC has announced the revival of its chess show – a programme that last aired on the channel in 1983 under the title, The Master Game, and which will now be known as Chess Masters. The new show will involve participants from a wide range of backgrounds and age groups competing in a series of rapid chess games, with the winner being crowned ‘Chess Master’.

The original series was known for its innovative (for the time) use of graphics and commentary, so it is expected that Chess Masters will build on this legacy to create an accessible and engaging format. Full details are currently scarce, but the show has the support of the English Chess Federation and its Director of International Chess and External Relations, Malcolm Pein, and will air in 2025.

Taylor Swift fans hanging onto every word she sings, even words she doesn’t…

Image: Billboard via Getty Images

Interestingly, Pein was the subject of a Twitter based wind-up initiated by chess streamer WCM Tallulah Roberts, who, in a tweet, jokingly appended some chess moves to the lyrics of a recent Taylor Swift song, together with the line, ‘omg I can’t believe these are real lyrics from the new Taylor Swift album’. Pein referenced this information in the press release for the show without realising the joke, leading to swathes of people trawling in vain through Tortured Poets Department lyrics (actual chess references are, in fact, present in previous Swift songs and in her current tour aesthetics, as mentioned above).

Commissioning editors in the television industry are keen to spot a trend, and rarely put their necks on the line creating a show without first having a firm grasp of potential audience numbers. Two metrics that will have caught their attention are the number of people viewing Twitch chess streams (an average of 16,000 viewers per day in 2021), and the number of downloads of chess apps, with the Chess.com app having been the most popular free game on the IOS app store in February 2023. Celebrity endorsements of chess in recent months from the likes of Lily Cole, Madonna and Anthony Joshua will have further elevated its profile within popular culture.

Chess back on our screens

It seems, then, that chess is heading towards a position within society that it last attained during the 1970s, when Bobby Fischer became embedded in the popular consciousness, thanks to his famous battle against Boris Spassky at the height of the Cold War.

It may be pertinent, at this point, to ask whether this is an unreservedly positive development for current players and fans of the game. Popularity is often lauded as a beneficial quality, but it is not without its downsides. In the six months immediately following the release of The Queen’s Gambit, for example, demand for chess sets, pieces and boards greatly outstripped supply, leaving many enthusiasts either struggling to locate the exact items they wished to purchase, or having to join long waiting lists.

Will this cause another surge in chess set sales?

It must be remembered, however, that the Queen’s Gambit demand-side spike was not wholly a consequence of the success of the show; increased disposable income that resulted from lockdown restrictions in 2020 was also a major factor. As such, the current upwards movement of interest in the game feels much more organic and manageable from a retailer’s perspective. It is unlikely that a repeat of 2020 is on the cards, even with celebrity endorsements of the game and chess-related TV shows being made.

For many years a range of chess players, from amateurs to international grandmasters, have been decrying the lack of coverage of chess in the mainstream media; perhaps now is the moment when it can take centre stage.

CategoriesRegency Chess Co. News

Regency Chess Chess Sets Now Available In France

For years our sets have been available all over the world but we are now pleased to announce that many of our lovely chess sets are available to French buyers through a dedicated website Le Palais Des Echecs. This superb website features a great number of lovely quality chess sets with great customer service and fast delivery. We are delighted to be partners of this great company and to see our sets presented magnificently on their website.

The website boasts

  • Fast Shipping to all of France
  • Competitive pricing
  • Great customer service
  • Top quality presentation and images
  • All products hand selected for their style, quality and value

CategoriesRegency Chess Co. News

Job Vacancy – E-Commerce Channel Manager

Job Title:  E-Commerce Channel Manager

Location: Frome, Somerset

Hours of work: F/T 37 hours per week

Salary: £20k basic with performance bonus to £27k OTE

Position Overview

As our E-Commerce Channel Manager, you will be responsible for growing our sales through optimising existing sales channels, opening new channels, managing partner-website relationships, active marketing and maintaining our published online content.  

The role is very varied including SEO, social media (FB, Instagram etc.), website content writing, project management, graphic design and video editing.

You will need the drive to grow revenue and profit, with the ingenuity to spot opportunities that can be exploited.

The Regency Chess Company expects both a high level of professionalism and a personal touch. The successful applicant will be able to build rapport with external contacts and develop close working relationships with internal team members.

As we are a small team, there will be times when you will need to cover other roles so being a team-player with a willingness to get stuck in is essential. 

You will manage your own time efficiently, and balance technical and administrative tasks.

Essential Job Functions

  • Proactive management of sales platforms/channels (including accurate syncing to existing company software, product descriptions, content writing, pricing and images)
  • Working with the business owner to identify new sales opportunities
  • Proactive marketing for the business
  • Building effective relationships with external contacts and the internal team
  • Ability to work without supervision
  • Owning projects & tasks from start to completion
  • Monitor and adapt to the changing needs of e-Commerce platforms, flexing approach as necessary
  • Work collaboratively across the business to meet company objectives
  • Take ownership of solving problems
  • Very sharp attention to detail and investigative mindset

Qualifications and desirable skills

  • Sales Channel management
  • Marketing experience
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Demonstrates ownership and is comfortable working individually and in a team
  • Active interest in e-Commerce
  • Quick to pick up new information and a willingness to learn
  • Self-starter with enthusiasm for personal development
  • Strong IT background
  • Adobe Photoshop skills
  • Experience of the following systems;
    • Amazon Seller Central
    • Ebay
    • Woo Commerce
    • WordPress
    • MS Office

 

The Regency Chess Company

Established for over ten years The Regency Chess Company has become Europe’s leading online retailer of traditional games. We run a small yet dedicated team in our business premises in Frome, Somerset and offer a superb range of products alongside top-quality customer service.

Benefits include

  • Performance-related bonus
  • Company pension scheme
  • Free tea & coffee at the in-house staff specialty coffee shop

Regency Chess Company values

Professionalism – Approaches others in a tactful manner and manages expectations. Treats others with respect and consideration regardless of their status or position.

Teamwork – Balances team and individual responsibilities. Gives and welcomes feedback. Contributes to building a positive team spirit whilst supporting everyone’s efforts to succeed.

Customer service – Manages all Customer situations with appropriate action and responds promptly to customer needs and meets commitments, both internally and externally. Has an excellent telephone manner and communicates to customers in a user-friendly language.

Problem solving – Identifies and resolves problems in a timely manner, gathering and analysing information skillfully. Develops alternative solutions and escalates as appropriate.

Technical skills – Commits to being knowledgeable and up-to-date within relevant technologies. Strives continuously to build knowledge and skills, especially within the business’ core areas. Shares expertise and knowledge with others.

Time Management – Prioritise and plans work activities using time efficiently. Meets required commitments on quantity and quality of work.

To apply for the role please email your CV and covering letter to  [email protected]

CategoriesRegency Chess Co. News

The Staunton Chess Design – Laying the myths to rest once and for all

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 Staunton Olive Oil Company
The Staunton Olive Oil Company

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.

Howard Staunton

An orginal Staunton Set
An orginal Jaques Staunton chess set

Staunton Today

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.