Jaques Tuff-A-Nuff Rubber Chessmen
Feb 1, 2011Public
Photo: CH295; Jaques Tuff-A-Nuff ("TAN") Rubber Chessmen - ? 1923 or earlier (based on ads/prices shown in later images).

The accompanying box - mahogany, with stop hinges on the back, and two brass hooks to retain the lid at the front. A nice box it is, too - better than the pieces?! 

I haven't weighed it, but the set is very heavy. Given the rubber nature of the set, one cannot see any sign of weights if they are embedded.

These sets do not appear to be the first time that Jaques used a form of the name Tuff-A-Nuff - thanks to Marco for pointing me towards GracesGuide, which shows Jaques in 1922 as a "listed exhibitor...manufacturer of....Tuffanuff footballs"!! Hopefully, they used a softer - and unweighted - material. Neither is this the first time that rubber was used for chess pieces. I recall several years ago seeing a set made by Goodyear that was dated to - I think - the late 1880's. Unfortunately, I must have lost the photo of this set on an old computer that gave up the ghost. See comment below.
Photo: CH295 - open TAN box (did I really need to say that?)
Photo: CH295 - close-up of main pieces. 

K= 4in with 2in base

As the previous owner warned me, the pieces do smell - a slightly sulphuric, rotten-egg/cabbage smell. This had led me to think that they were likely to have been made of hard-rubber (also known as ebonite or vulcanite/vulcanised rubber) which included a significant  proportion of sulphur in the formula. However, it is clear from holding them that this is not the case throughout the set - the black-side pieces are quite hard, but the white-side (actually a light yellow rubber intended to imitate the colour of boxwood per the adverts) is still slightly flexible. 

The pieces have decayed slightly - losing some of their original detail. Plus, the rubber has become "squashed" in parts, which seems to be quite typical of the sets I have seen/heard of.
Photo: CH295 - the knights

These clearly show the problems with the rubber.

I will try to tidy-up the set at some point, which may improve matters slightly.
Photo: CH295 - close-up of the label - underside of the lid.

Note the following:

i the kings are depicted with crosses - whilst the rubber on my set is squashed somewhat, there is no indcation that there ever were crosses. Similarly, I have not seen any on the - limited -  other examples of these sets that I have seen.

ii - the name "Jaques" is prominently included on the label

iii however, at the bottom of the label it is stated that Jaques are "Sole Selling Agents".

iv a price of 40/-  (or £2 in curent UK currency) is written in pencil at the top left corner of the label.

v although it appears white in the above photo, the paper is of a blue-green colour in reality.

vi thanks to Marco for pointing out that the surrounding border-motif on the label is identical to that used on some Jaques' Genuine Staunton sets. See the final image on this web-page where it is shown as 1930's, but later revised by the author to late 1920's on:

Photo: CH295 - some bases. There is no sign of any stamp or label (nor on any other piece in the set). As may be seen from comments in a later image, it seems as if the base stamp found on some sets was "branded in" after moulding- on my pieces all have the mould flash-line only.
Photo: CH295 - an advert for the Tuff-A-Nuff sets, again showing Jaques prominently involved. Note the roundel at the bottom left.  There is no sign of any cross on the kings.

The Jaques catalogue of 1927 has this to say: "Specially recommended for Club or Cafe use to withstand Hard Wear and obliviate breakage. They are made from a Rubber compound which renders them to an extent flexible but are so constructed as to be unbreakable even if trodden upon. The general model of the men follows that of the reknowned "STAUNTON" Chess".

It is not known when these sets were introduced/discontinued (although they existed in Jan.1925). Given that very few appear now, their production life may well have been fairly short - I wonder how popular they actually were and how many were made/sold?

If anyone has any additional information regarding these sets, I should be very glad to receive it. It would seem that they have mainly escaped the attention of students of Jaques' - possibly due to their scarcity or composition.
Photo: A Tuff-A-Nuff set in the collection of Jon Crumiller, K=3.25in, unweighted: see -


Interesting points to note:

i) Jon's set has a crown-stamp clearly visible on the knight and rook at the right of the box. There is no sign on any of my pieces of such a stamp.

ii) it is in a slide-lid box, as opposed to my lidded/hooked box.
Photo: Another view of Jon's set. The pieces would appear to be in better condition than in my set.
Photo: Close-up of the label on Jon's set.  This is from the same general era as that on mine, with the same border design.

It shows more interesting points compared to the label on my set:

i) the name "Jaques" does not feature at the head of the label, as it does on mine.

ii) there is no reference at the foot of the label to Jaques being the "Sole Selling Agent". This one simply says "John Jaques & Son, Ltd. London"

Although it can only be speculation at this stage, the differences noted lead me to think that the relationship between Jaques and the manufacturer of the pieces must have changed - and probably quite early on. Logically, although this cannot be certain/proven yet, my set may well be an earlier version, with Jaques subsequently taking a greater interest in the product - moving on from being just "sole selling agent".
Photo: Base to Jon's set, showing the "stamp" - as can be seen, this follows the roundel shown in the Jaques advert earlier in this sequence. The stamp is directly into the rubber, and is crisp enough to make me think it must have been part of the original moulding (but see a later image of a BCM ad, dated 1925, which gives the mark as "branded in" implying some form of stamp). Note there is no sign of a 'flash-line' from a two-part mould on the bottom.

This stamp - beneath both kings, only  - is also mentioned in an auction description accompanying the third set I have seen (Bloomsbury Auctions , 26 October 2004). The set had no box, I understand, and the Kings were 8.5cm or 3.35in high.
Photo: Crown stamps on Jon's set - photo supplied by Jon, thanks,

The stamps are different to any seen on Jaques' wooden/ivory Staunton sets (or indeed on any by other makers) . I seems quite possible this was a specific stamp made by the maker of these rubber pieces - if so, why?

Note that the stamp on the knights appears to be centred in its own circular depression, whereas that on the rooks is a direct stamp of the crown alone. Were either of these separate stamps or part of the moulding process?

One eminent collector who has handled a number of these sets over the years believes the stamps (including the base stamp) were part of the mould. I'm not convinced: the pieces seem to have been made in a two-part mould (hence the vertical lines through the face of eg the knight ); this does not seem to fit well with a built-in stamp mark.
Photo: TAN set sold at Bloomsbury Auctions in 2007 (photo from their online catalogue)

Pawn is 4.6cm high (so, smaller than that in the 3.5in/8.5cm king height set, pawn=5.2cm) listed in the Bloomsbury auction Oct. 2004. Kings' bases stamped with the roundel. No mention/sign of crown stamps,  weighting or any label. It is not certain that this box was original to the set.
Photo: Ad. from British Chess Magazine, Jan 1925

This is the earliest ref. to the TAN sets that I have seen so far. The price for the larger set at £2 is the same as the 40/- shown as a pencil mark to the label on my set  (see earlier image 5 in this album).

As noted earlier, however, my set does not have the Trade Mark stamp on it, so it may be still earlier than 1925. 

Other interesting points: the box labels for the TAN's show them as "modeled on the lines of the celebrated Staunton Chessmen" - here, it simply uses the "Real Staunton Chessmen". Also, at the foot of the ad, it shows them as "Jaques' Tuff-A-Nuff" - including "Jaques" as in the main body of the label on my set, but which does not appear on Jon's.
(ad. provided by Mick - thanks!)
Photo: Ad from the February 1925 BCM (again provided by Mick).

Note the reduction in the prices from the preceding month: 4s (20p in current terms) - a 10% fall in that for the large size. It's not clear whether this was in response to lack or demand or, say, a reduction in purchase tax/duty (as I have noted elsewhere in connection with chess clocks in a different era).

These ads/prices continued in the remaining monthly issues until.....
Photo: Ad. from September 1925 BCM (again, provided by Mick)

The prices have now fallen another 4/- (20p in current UK terms) for the large set. These remain in force until the end of the year (when the series of magazines held by Mick comes to an end).

NB: Latest unconfirmed sighting (3.3.11) of a TAN set is in the 1923 volume of British Chess Magazine - with the pieces still stamped. The trail goes back?! 

If anyone has any BCM's (or other mags etc) prior to/after 1923/5 with information relating to the TAN's, I should be very pleased to receive details
Photo: Frank Camaratta (who, over the years, has handled a number of TAN sets) suggested that the knights on the TAN sets resembled the 'Lessing' knight (dated to 1938-40 in Robert Stoller's 'Camaratta Codex'). 

The above image shows a boxwood Lessing knight (left) with a TAN knight from my set (centre) and the same under flash (right) to emphasize the detail. 

I can see a distinct similarity​, although the same might be said to an extent of others of the C20th knights (especiall​y the 'Broadbent​': 1925-37) that are cruder in design/exe​cution than their earlier brethren.

Whatever, the TAN knight's simplicity of design was no doubt a product of the necessity of having a knight with few, if any, protruding elements - both for ease of moulding and to avoid subsequent breakage (the TAN's were marketed for club use).

Given that the TAN design now seems to date to the early 1920's, it may well have been a precursor and 'inspirati​on' to the less detailed C20th wooden knights such as those mentioned above
Photo: From Bloomsbury Auctions sale of 26th October 2004