Luke Honey | Decorative Antiques, Chess, Backgammon & Games


July 12, 2016

Two charming chess pawns from the early nineteenth century. In an interesting article for The Chess Collector Magazine (volume 2, April 1992) Michael Mark shows their similarity to chess pieces designed by the British artist, Edward Bird (1772- 1819). Bird was an English genre painter who spent most of his working life in Bristol, where the Bristol School of artists formed around him. He enjoyed a few years of popularity in London, where he challenged the dominance of Sir David Wilkie in the genre painting field, before moving on to history painting, specialising in battle scenes.

An ivory set, attributed to Macao, circa 1820, appeared for sale at Sotheby’s Belgravia in April, 1980, although Michael Mark’s research demonstrates that this particular set, again, was most likely to have come from a design by Bird. One side depicts the Romans, with rooks as elephants bearing turrets, the opposing side are Turks, or a force bearing Oriental dress.

These two pawns were originally offered for sale in a subsequent lot at the Sotheby’s sale in April, 1980; the property of “J. G. C Hill Esq.”

Other sets have appeared on the market from time to time: at Sotheby’s New York (23rd October 1980), Christie’s London (25th November, 1987) and Phillips London (13th November, 1990).