BCC: The British Chess Company.
May 31, 2010Public
Photo: Advert for the BCC Royal Chessmen from a book “Six Practical Chess Openings” published by BCC in 1893.
Photo: CH67: “Imperial” or "Staunton Improved” set - mid/late 1890's. 

King height 3.36“ / 85mm, base = 1.46in 37.3mm.  

With Xylonite (an early cellulose-based plastic - a direct successor to, and essentially the same composition as, Parkesine, invented by England's Alexander Parkes in 1855 and exhibited in 1862 - the world's first semi-synthetic thermoplastic) knights heads. The pieces have wide bases, are relatively chunky (but still an elegant and pleasing design for me)  and are very stable in play - an excellent set (and one I used recently at my club - much admired it was, too) . The pieces are set on the Jaques slide-lid box in which they came: a shame it is not an original BCC box.

Note the double collars to the pieces - BCC were certainly not consistent in this respect, even producing some with triple-ringed collars.

NB BCC also produced some all-Xylonite sets (and boards) - see the following Picasa site for photo's of some:

http://picasaweb.google.com/chesspurr/PlasticSets#5406298980137735586
Photo: CH67: sample of the black pieces (ebonised) 

Unfortunately, the black king is a replacement (an ebony Jaques piece, as can be seen from the stamp on the base, so hardly a true "dog"!). The rooks have 4 crennelations as with all BCC-produced Staunton sets.
Photo: CH67: Xylonite-headed knights. The white pieces' coating has mellowed to a very attractive shade and resembles meerschaum, the clay used in some (smoking) pipes. 

Note the crown on the wooden base of the knight (left) to denote the k-side piece - most makers place this on the top of the head, but presumably this was trickier in Xylonite; this location is carried over into the company's wooden knights. Stamps for the rooks are located on the top of the turret as is usually the case.  

Another point to note is the moulding "seam" that runs down the centre of the knights heads - most evident in the one on the far left, especially through the chest. 

Finally, note that it is evident from the wear to the black knights here that these particular examples had surface-colouring only. See photo no.33 for an example of knights with Xylonite coloured before casting.

This knight design is found mainly on the Staunton/Imperial BCC sets, and is quite different to that on the Royal sets. I prefer these.
Photo: CH67: the white Xylonite knights. Note the heavy veining to the faces.

One can only speculate whether the use of "plastic" heads was a cost-saving exercise - avoiding the need to employ permanent carvers for wooden heads.

Alhough Xylonite seems not to have caught the imagination of chess players at the time, I really like it - both as a material and as a means of creating a different look to the knights. As yet, I have never actually seen an all-Xylonite set for "real", so  will reserve judgement as to the look of that.
Photo: CH67: mane to a white knight.
Photo: CH67: white knight
Photo: CH67 - crown stamp

BCC used the same crown stamp on all it's sets - even the bought-in Popular sets (see later image) . 

On the knights, the stamps appear on the wooden bases.

Occasionally, a 'star' or 'asterisk' stamp has been found as is shown on a later image in this album.
Photo: CH67 - felts
Photo: Advert for the BCC “Popular” set. This was a cheaper range marketed by BCC, the knights were cruder (no Xylonite version available ) and the rooks had 5* crennelations. It is almost certain that this range of sets was bought-in and never made by BCC

* one could be forgiven for thinking there should only be 4 - as the 'gap' between them appears to be 'straight-through' in the drawing.
Photo: CH41: my BCC Popular set in a BCC-stamped box- a No.3 size.

 The box has the BCC label with details hand-written. This set is not weighted (“loaded” as the term was used at the time)
Photo: CH41 - Label to the Staunton Popular Chessmen

You can see (from the top left hand corner) that the label is superimposed on another - it has resisted my mild efforts to get it off; this may be just a glitch of two labels stuck together ab initio, although - as inferred in a later image regarding the boxes stamped rim - there may be a non-Pop. label underneath.

The size quoted (no. 3) would tie in with the the size of this set's chessmen using BCC's size guide as published in its 1891 catalogue - although, as noted by in the BCC guide by Lyons & Deasey, BCC seem to have changed its sizing towards the end of its life.
Photo: CH41: BCC Popular set ready for action. Although cruder and less distinctive than BCC's own-manufactured sets, this is still a well-made set and good to play with.

I've just noticed - there appears to be missing black pawn in the photo: thankfully I do have it!
Photo: CH 41: Popular set line-up

K= 3.62in / 92mm height; 1.52in / 39mm base diameter

Queen's have 9 points to the coronets, whereas all BCC's 'main' Staunton-type sets have 8.

Note also the very deep gash (on both sides) to the Bishop's mitre - all the way to the upper ring.
Photo: CH41 British Chess Co. Popular set - crown stamp to rook plus close-up.

Even 'though considered to have been bought in, these sets retain the distinctive BCC crown stamp.

Note that the rooks have 5 crenellations, as opposed to the 4 seen on their 'main' sets. Interestingly, the stamps appear to have no paint in-fill - both on the rooks and the knights. I wonder if this is a normal trait with BCC Pop. sets?
Photo: CH41: Popular knights showing the BCC crown-stamp on the base as with BCC's own ranges. The knights have what I call the “3xcrater” chest motif that features on many Staunton knights.  Although undoubtedly cruder than BCC's own-range knights (wooden and Xylonite) I do not find these as crude/poorly carved as some would have them.

Note that the knights are crown-stamped on the bases, as is common with BCC sets.
Photo: CH41 BCC Popular set - Knights

According to an illustration for the Popular set, BCC say '...carved knights screwed to their pedestal...'. with 'screwed' emphasized in italics. As shown here, however, the knights to my Popular set are affixed by wooden peg/glue.

BCC generally used iron screws to affix the knights heads on their own-made wooden sets - including Xylonite heads.
Photo: CH41: edge to the box on my Popular set with a (double, hence the blurred effect) BCC stamp.

The 2010 BCC CD-book states that Pop. set boxes were not mentioned as being BCC-stamped in any way (although my photo here appears in it as an example of a BCC stamped box - see figs 49 & 61); it is possible that the box was intended for another BCC mainstream set but used with a Pop. label super-imposed over the original for some reason (and would explain the double-label shown in an earlier image).
Photo: CH41 - BCC Popular set -  felts
Photo: This photo shows my BCC Popular pieces - CH220 (to the left, as viewed, of each pair) - next to a similar sized set by another manufacturer (FH Ayres, although even proving this is difficult!). It has been speculated that the Popular sets may have been sourced in France - and I can see allusions to “french” characteristics in some of the pieces; however, taken overall, I believe the Pops to have been made in England for BCC* - and quite possibly by Ayres.

* too many such sets - with some variations - without BCC crown stamps appear for BCC to be the likely manufacturer: I cannot believe they had the capacity or ability to hold high stock levels (say at their demise).
Photo: C346 - British Chess Company 'Popular' set c.1899-1902; No 2 size


Boxwood / ebonised boxwood, nicely polished and heavily weighted in a lovely large box

K = 3.93in / 100mm
Q's with 10(W)/11(B) points to the coronet (my smaller Pop has 9)
R's with 5 crennelations - typical of Pops
B's with full balls and deep gashes to the mitres (down to the collar), again, typical of these sets

Not as 'refined' or distinctive as BCC's main-line sets, these are excellent playing sets in their own right, with 'chunky' pieces that sit well on the board (my larger BCC board CH98, in the above image). They formed BCC's cheaper range in the dying days of the firm's production period,  but, as BCC-crown-stamped sets, are not seen very frequently. They were most likely bought in - Ayres being a possible source.

There is damage to: one white rook's castelations, two pawn's collars and a slight crack to the base of the black queen - but I find I  become more tolerant of such as time goes by,  and I can live with it happily.
Photo: CH346 - BCC 'Popular' set - family line up

The typical full gash to the Bishop's mitre is clearly seen here.

The set is made entirely of boxwood, the black side ebonized - there is no perceptible wear to the black side on this example.
Photo: CH346 Box accompanying the set.

9.2in by 7in by 4.3in, with (working!) lock/key and hook/eye catches (these being possible additions - one is not aligned well). It also has been customized with a leather handle for ease of transportation - with the set inside it is quite heavy. The corners of the box are rounded slightly. It has good quality stop-hinges on the lid.  There is no stamp or label visible on the box.

The exterior top of the box has a small brass plate inserted; small holes can be seen in a rectangular shape around this - probably for a plate ; it also looks as if there may have been a larger label affixed at some time. 

The interior shows a padded satin lining to the lid - clearly an addition, as green felt can be seen around the edges. So far, it has resisted my gentle efforts to remove it to see if there is a (BCC) maker's label beneath*.  Currently, only the base of the box has a green felt lining, but a close view will show that all the sides had a similar covering originally.
Photo: CH346  Black stamped rook - showing the typical 5 crenellations to the BCC Popular sets.

Close-up of crown stamps to black rook and white knight (on the base as is usual with BCC sets). The stamp is typical of that associated with BCC.

Once again, there is no sign of there having been any paintwork applied to these stamps at any time.