Cantonese ivory Staunton sets - comparisons
Apr 22, 2011Public
Photo: Comparison of pieces in my three Cantonese ivory travel sets

From left to right (in all this series of images):  CH114, CH263 & CH219

All these pieces were designed to fit on the same size of board (although all have different diameter pegs, which makes exchanging tricky, if not impossible in some instances).  It was clear that there were substantial differences but, until I had all three together, I had not quite recognised how much so!

Kings: 31.4mm / 40mm / 37.4mm, respectively, excl. peg

The piece on the left is perhaps more closely resembling a standard English Staunton king, with the other two being more 'distinctive'. This might mean that it was a closer copy of a western set and therefore, possibly, earlier than the other two. As yet, I know of no valid means of separating the age of these sets.

As an aside, I can see quite a resemblance between the Kings' crosses on these sets and those found on German Uhlig sets!
Photo: Comparison of pieces in three Cantonese ivory travel sets

Queens

The basic shapes/relative heights of the Kings are carried over to the Queens
Photo: Comparison of pieces in three Cantonese ivory travel sets

Bishops

some of the king's size differences are lost on this piece.

It's interesting that the two right hand pieces have the top knop sliced through, as on some Jaques pieces. I wonder if this can be used to class/date these sets?
Photo: Comparison of pieces in three Cantonese ivory travel sets

Knights

Here, the relative size of the kings is 'forgotten' - the smallest king is accompanied by the biggest knight!

All these knights are of the distinctive 'Ming-vase' style, rather than standard European-style heads; all have the very distinctive zig-zag manes.
Photo: Comparison of pieces in three Cantonese ivory travel sets

Rooks

Not a great deal of difference in height. The rook on the left has 6 crennelations, as with Jaques Staunton sets, whilst the others have but 4.
Photo: Comparison of pieces in three Cantonese ivory travel sets

Pawns

As with the knights, the tallest pawn accompanies the shortest king!
Photo: Comparison of three - non-travel sized  - Cantonese ivory Staunton sets

CH78 - 242 - 302

CH302 is the 'odd-man-out', in that it was clearly meant to be a smaller version (Library-sized in Jaques terms) rather than simply being 'smaller' as is probably the case with my travel sets.

Kings

As with the rest of the pieces, the King on CH78 is closer in style to Western sets - including the cross, which is not as heavy/exaggerated as on the other two kings.
Photo: Comparison of three - non-travel sized  - Cantonese ivory Staunton sets

CH78 - 242 - 302

Queens
Photo: Comparison of three - non-travel sized  - Cantonese ivory Staunton sets

CH78 - 242 - 302

Bishops

Unlike the travel sets, none of these bishops have the knop partially sliced with the 'gash' in the mitre.
Photo: Comparison of three - non-travel sized  - Cantonese ivory Staunton sets

CH78 - 242 - 302

Knights

All with the slightly- cartoony (to Western eyes raised on the classical Elgin Marbles inspired Jaques knights heads and variants) 'Ming-vase' style of knights heads - heavy jowls and zig-zag manes.

CH78 is perhaps closest in essential shape to the earlier 'Canton-copy' knights, which might be a further indicator that it is in fact an earlier version of these 'later' sets.
Photo: Comparison of three - non-travel sized  - Cantonese ivory Staunton sets

CH78 - 242 - 302

Rooks

Unlike the travel set versions, the rooks from all three sets have 6 sets of crennelations  (the 'gaps' in the battlements are the 'crenels' from which the term comes, and the protective solid part are the 'merlons' - for those technically minded!)

The respective size of these pieces follows the knights - the largest rook accompanying the smaller king.
Photo: Comparison of three - non-travel sized  - Cantonese ivory Staunton sets

CH78 - 242 - 302

Pawns
Photo: 'Later' Cantonese ivory Staunton sets

This album seeks to compare and contrast six such sets in my collection - three each of travel ('travel sets' album) and full size ('other staunton sets' album).

I have not seen any detailed research into these sets, although it has often been said that they date to the early C20th. Letters from Liverpool Museum in connection with CH78 (   https://picasaweb.google.com/mtaxcons/OtherStaunton#5580598972192519410  ) date this set to the C19th, although, unfortunately, the most essential part is missing - my guess is that it would have said 'late' in this respect; this opinion appears to have been given during the early part of WWII - so could be considered as either (a) relevant due to greater proximity to the production date or (b) of lesser relevance, as little real research may have been carried out by then - take your pick!


...ctd
Photo: ....(ctd) 
 
It is interesting that CH78 and one travel set - CH114 - look to be closer in style to Staunton sets made in England. My guess is that this is due to their being earlier (late C19th) than the other sets shown here.

 It seems quite feasible that during the resurgence of popularity in chess from c.1890, when a number of comptetitors to Jaques appear to have come on the scene, that copy-sets were commissioned from China, to provide good-quality, serviceable - but, importantly - probably cheaper, ivory sets. As time went by, these Canton sets probably deviated further from the Western 'norm'.

An alternative, of course, could be that they were produced by different local makers, each of whom made them to their own 'fancy' with less reference to actual Western sets. However, I tend to favour the 'early/later' theory (with, it should be admitted, no obvious factual reason!).


....ctd
Photo: ...ctd

I especially like the travel set versions of these Cantonese sets. The turning/carving is excellent for such sizes - in fact one might often find it difficult to tell the difference between these and the full-size sets from images alone (in this album, I deliberately placed the full-size pieces on a somewhat larger pegged-board to make it less obvious as to which were which). 

No doubt further evidence will come to light, enabling more accurate dating (but see the next two images that do at least provide a date). Whatever, these are nice ivory sets that are eminently collectible, and certainly (at the current time, at least) more affordable than their English counterparts. I'm happy to have - and be able to play with - all of these sets.
Photo: A 3.75in King set (not owned) seen on eBay May 2011.

The 'nature'of the red house-like piece in the front is unknown! 

.....ctd on next image, where the reason for including this set here will become apparent.....
Photo: Box to the set in previous image. The word 'ivory' has been blanked out - although now over 100 years old, eBay has placed a (to collectors, mostly unwarranted) general ban on ivory products, whether legal under CITES regulations or not!

The inscription indicates that the set was bought in 1911 in the Walled City, Canton, China by an American Army officer. Although these sets are generally thought of as export sets, they were obviously available to buy locally by 'tourists'. 

Originally, foreigners were not permitted to enter the Walled City, and trade was limited to the Thirteen Factories situated in the suburbs of Canton. A fine web-site to view in this respect is:

http://oldshameen.com/index.php/home
Photo: Pieces from a Cantonese travel part-set

K - 25.33mm excluding the mising cross

Once again, the pieces are quite different to the other sets shown here. Somewhere, there 'must' be two sets the same - they made enough!
Photo: Pieces from a Cantonese travel part-set

Knight

Whilst Cantonese in basic shape (long body, zig-zag mane in particular) this piece is quite crude in its execution and is quite thin in the width of the chest/body.

It's shape reminds me of the knights on set CH36  https://picasaweb.google.com/mtaxcons/NonEuropean#5566180314714957842

Equally, if you look at the head alone, there is a resemblance to the knight's heads found on a number of the Whittington-style travel sets.
Photo: Pieces from a Cantonese travel part-set

King & Rook (red piece) with top section unscrewed.

Despite the small size, all the pieces come in several elements: bishops, pawns and knights - 2 (body/peg & base)rooks - 3 (as before, plus head); King  - 4 ( originally with a cross as the 4th element).

All have the connectors with typical Cantonese threads as can be seen.

The rooks have the 4 merlons/crenels typical of these sets. It is however unusual to find the top of the thread connectors acting as the floor of the 'battlements' area - this is also the case with the white rook in these pieces.
Photo: Sets held by other Picasa collectors (or seen on eBay etc).

Others may be viewed here:

full-size:  https://picasaweb.google.com/chesspurr/MyChineseIvoryPlayingSets#5401394545141657538

travel size: https://picasaweb.google.com/chesspurr/TRAVELMINIATUREPOCKETSETS#5389072139865972994
Photo: Travel set with more 'up-market' ivory & ebony board, but still on the same pattern. 

Eagle-eyed viewers will see the pieces placed the 'other way round'. The explanation and other images of the set can be seen here:

https://picasaweb.google.com/mickdeasey/TravelAndPocketChessSets#5392810333628902930

I wonder if the board/pieces originated together? There is a marked variation in the various boards sets I own, so that it is not always easy to transpose them - but they do fit their 'own' board!
Photo: For further images - see: https://picasaweb.google.com/ACF1515/TravelChessSets#5385827097081382882
Photo: Full size - 4.25in - set. The largest of this type I've seen - so far.

See other images here:https://picasaweb.google.com/Fersht/CantoneseStaunton#