White's Aluminum Chess
Dec 11, 2012Public
Photo: 'White's Aluminum Chess' (not owned)

An interesting-looking set that appeared on US eBay recently. It attracted me on a number of counts. 

Unfortunately, to date, I have been singularly unable to find out anything regarding the set or its origins! If anyone has information, it will be gratefully received. I 'guess' it as being early C20th, pre-WW1.

Interesting is the spelling of the word 'Aluminum'. As an Englishman, I had always grown up believing this was the US spelling for the metal that we call 'Aluminium' (with extra 'i'). However, on looking matters up some time ago  (eg see http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/aluminium.htm  for a good brief history of the discovery of the metal and its 'naming') the issue is by no means as straightforward as this! 

Although the spelling may not be definitive, my suspicion is that this is likely to have been an American-made set.

This album lacks any real conclusions at this stage. Its aim is to draw attention to similarities that may be resolved in due course.
Photo: Close-up of pieces and the label

The label states 'copyrighted' - this term suggests that it should relate to the terminology/wording, rather than the actual shape of the chessmen. A brief look at the US Copyright Office website/records did not show anything of interest (although the site is not easy to use - if anyone can do better, please let me know). Strictly speaking, I think that 'copyright' simply exists - both in the US as in the UK - but that the term would normally only be used if such copyright were registered, as, otherwise it would be difficult to enforce.  

The label is also over-stamped with 'Svenska Schakklubben' - Swedish Chessclub - with what looks like '3209 William Ave. Chicago' although the city is less clear. Again, I can find nothing specific in this respect.

According to the sale particulars, the king in this set is 3.25" high and the pawns 2", weighing 2 & 1 oz respectively.
Photo: The White pieces from this compared to

i) Extract from drawing of a set in an ad. from well-known US chess supplier Wm Lyons (the full ad. is shown later in this album) early C20th.  The ad. states that 'These figures are the exact style..of...Staunton pattern chessmen' he was selling.

ii) advert for a Jaques Staunton pattern set that I call the ISP (the full advert and the rationale for 'ISP' shown later)

iii) a set of mine - CH215, see https://picasaweb.google.com/102034963874507604520/OtherStaunton#5476019818609540162   - that is identical to the Jaques advert, although it has no markings to confirm the maker. Numerous sets of this pattern appear (I have several, shown after CH215) from time-to-time.

To my eye, all of these chessmen are of the same essential pattern. This itself is very much akin to the French Lardy sets (eg https://picasaweb.google.com/102034963874507604520/OtherStaunton#5473417186515791074 ) although whether they were copies or actual imports from France is unclear.
Photo: Close-up of knights from the various sets previously referred to.

The Lyons' set drawing is the least convincing, but, despite, the advert's claim to exactitude, coupled with the match of the other pieces, it does appear to be the same pattern.

It's interesting that the profile of the knights' base is different to that of the other pieces on all these sets.
Photo: The two full adverts previously referred to (Lyons & Jaques).

Note that Lyons refers to himself as 'Importer and dealer' and specifically refers to these sets as '..these men are my own importation...'.

The Jaques advert refers to this 'lesser' range of chessmen as '...they are of inferior workmanship and materials..' - hence my use of the term 'Inferior Staunton Pattern', or ISP. Jaques used the same wording in connection with lesser ranges for a considerable period of time, although later images showed a slightly different, and less distinctive, form of chessmen.

The Lyons advert photo was sourced from Winters Chess Notes 5383, and was initially (date unknown) supplied there by Frank Camaratta in connection with an inquiry on Bird's chessmen (although I do not think they relate to either of the Bird's Chess sets known to me). I understand that this advert dates to 1910, although the period over which he sold these sets is currently unclear to me.
Photo: A set of chessmen of almost-certain American design/manufacture. The image is taken from Mick Deasey's excellent album on early North American Sets - https://picasaweb.google.com/109071933456760886718/NorthAmericanChessSets# (well worth looking at in its entirety). 

As set out in the album, Mick believes that this particular set was one of those used at the Cambridge Springs 1904 tournament - note that the knight on this set is different in character to those found in other American sets in Mick's album, the theory being that imported ISP-type knights heads were substituted for the more individual native-American heads so as to make the sets more 'natural' for visiting foreign players. If so, the use of ISP-type knights (and, possibly, the whole sets) in the US can be dated back to at least 1904.