FH Ayres Ltd: a case for attribution,and examination of, certain Staunton sets.
May 30, 2010Public
Photo: Ayres, traceable to 1810, became one of England's best and largest sports/games manufacturers/ retailers; it became part of Slazenger in 1940 (a).

So, you have a set you think may be by FH Ayres Ltd - how can you go about deciding whether it might be? Well, the first thing to note is that Ayres did not mark their sets* in any way. This seems a little odd, given that Jaques did - and, Jaques were in many ways a comparable firm, both producing a wide range of sporting and gaming goods. Equally, as regards their chessmen, both firms sold almost exclusively via retailers.  Ayres did not baulk at "branding" its other goods as may be seen from the subsequent photo's.

* Here, I mean their full chess sets - a travel set in Peter Armits collection has its' box with a rare "Ayres" signature in cursive script. The set is similar to those produced by Jaques in the 1940's onwards - see it here and the next photo for the signature: 
https://picasaweb.google.com/103350400876697824519/TravelChessSets#5217364505632163938
Photo: An enameled tin-plate advertising plaque by FH Ayres. The firm was clearly not above promoting its name in other areas - why not with chess? It also stamped its name on its golf clubs from the same era, and many of it's other wares .
Photo: Ayres' logo as found on a rocking horse. Again, why did they not seek to differentiate their chess sets - even if sold indirectly, through retailers, in bulk?
Photo: Ayres' name-plate from a rocking horse stand of late 1940's. Note the odd cut-out : it produces a stylised "H", but is that the reason? It could - for some reason - be to remove the "FH" and "Ltd". By this date, Ayres had been taken over (by Slazenger), so it may have been done to use up old-stock plates.

As may be seen elsewhere on my Picasa site, another chess-manufacturer - HP Gibson & Son Ltd - was effectively shut down, for the duration of the war, in 1940 after a severe bombing raid on London destroyed their premises and equipment. That firm's premises  were situated at 101 Aldersgate Street, London  - just 'down the road' from FH Ayres at no.111 Aldersgate Street. Although I have seen no specfic confirmation of this, it seems reasonable to speculate that the same bombing raid had a serious effect on the Ayres business, possibly forcing it to seek a 'white knight' partner to take it over.
Photo: The head from an FH Ayres rocking horse, generally considered to be the finest of their kind. Can you see any resemblance with the knights' heads? If not, one could legitimately ask why not? It could have been their "Unique Selling Propostion" to separate their sets from rivals. Perhaps Ayres perceived strength was their very anonymity, allowing them to sell unbranded decent quality sets through a variety of retailers in differing markets,
Photo: "Sandown" racing game by Ayres

The name refers to Sandown Park, the famous English Racecourse

(not owned by me - photo thanks to Victor)
Photo: Interior of the "Sandown" game box

(not owned by me - photo thanks to Victor)
Photo: Table Croquet set by FH Ayres Ltd (see stencil marking on inside of lid) - image ex eBay
Photo: Golf club sold by FH Ayres - with their Maltese cross cleekmark  - adopted c1910.

The clubhead shows the maker as H.Hunt, who appears to have been the club Pro at Reigate Heath Golf Club (a respected 9-hole course, founded 1895 at Redhill, Surrey, England) between 1904-19.
Photo: The Game of Spellicans (seen on eBay - not owned)

The box label shows it to be by : FH Ayres .... London. No mention of 'Ltd' so it could well be a fairly early set.

We had a plastic set of this game when I was a young 'boy' in the 1950's and greatly enjoyed playing it.  Much simpler days, perhaps: yet a simple game that can induce frustration and annoyance (with oneself) has a lot of attractions and appeal.
Photo: The following sequence of photo's show a number of my sets, that I believe to be by Ayres (the reasons why, to be explored later in this album), in different sizes - generally, these are also depicted with their closest Jaques equivalent for comparison purposes. Each set is of a similar 'style' that I shall generally refer to as "Ayres Base style". For convenience, in this section, the sets will simply be called 'Ayres'.
Photo: CH216: Eng; Ayres; K=3.9in, base 1.65in; weighted & clothed, c1900. 

This particular set was used by the previous owner in his simultaneous games in the 1970's against Grandmasters Korchnoi, Hort and Szabo. A beautiful set with a history that I am very pleased to own. The pictures here do not do this set justice. 

A larger - 4.4in - set was made, although I do not have one. A fortunate fellow collector does - see http://dorland-chess.com/pageID_9405159.html The set is of a similarly high quality, with identical characteristics to this 3.9in version. Apart from the extra height, there is no discernible difference between the two sets.
Photo: Laszlo Szabo

Hungarian Grandmaster and National Champion for many years
Photo: CH216; Ayres men at bottom - the upper pieces are from a 3.5in Jaques set from c.1900, and compare extremely well with them in terms of quality. The Jaques set is slightly smaller, but has the Kings' base the same width as the Ayres, which makes it a little more stable and aesthetically pleasing - the other pieces bases' however are wider in the Ayres.
Photo: CH216 - felts
Photo: CH216: Comparison of crown stamps on the rooks - Ayres to the left, Jaques to the right
Photo: CH216: comparison of the knights - again, Ayres to the left, Jaques to the right. The carving in these Ayres knights is certainly no worse than the Jaques to my eyes.  The pieces are extemely similar overall. Both knights have 'drilled' eyes.
Photo: CH216: fronts of knights  

From the left: this Ayres set, Jaques, unknown maker (see my set CH189:
http://picasaweb.google.com/cotaxman/OtherStaunton#5473417316460345154 ) and finally a smaller Ayres set. 

The last knight shows a pattern on the chest of three "indentations" that is quite common on Staunton sets; the first three, in slightly different ways, adopt a similar overall pattern, but with the emphasis on the central "triangular" raised element with the three surrounding carved indentations forming a circular/oval frame. Again, the Ayres and the Jaques are remarkably similar in this respect. 

I have long thought that the "nature" of the chest markings on Staunton knights could be a dating/makers' identifying factor - perhaps one day we will know enough to classify these more.
Photo: CH220; K=3.5in, base=1.4in box/ebony - sadly with pieces missing (2x black rooks, I knight and several pawns) that have since been replaced.
Photo: CH220 - note the absence of any crown stamps on this set
Photo: CH220 - knights;  quality of the knights improves with height; these still have the 3x“crater” chest motif“
Photo: CH72; Eng; Ayres; K=3.1in (77mm), base=1.4; weighted and clothed; the knights are noticably less well-carved than on the 3.9in set but are still pretty good.
Photo: CH72; Ayes at bottom compared with a c1890 Jaques Library set. The Jaques king is slightly taller at 3.15in but this is only due to the varying heights of the cross (perhaps it is time we collectors ignored the cross in determining heights). Overall, I have to prefer the look of the Jaques at this size, although if cost were taken into account, the Ayres would win out, again.
Photo: CH72; crown stamps - Ayres on the bottom, Jaques on top