Staunton Chessmen

The period between the 14th and 18th centuries gave great impetus to the global growth and spread of the game of chess. As the most distinctive and evocative manifestations of the game, the design and craftsmanship of chessmen both influenced and were influenced by, the artistic styles and cultural moorings of various eras and geographies in which the game flourished.

Convergence in chessmen design

But, by the late 18th-19th centuries the explosion in chessmen designs from around the globe, gave rise to its own set of problems. With global tournaments on the rise, top chess masters of the era were finding it increasingly hard to focus on their game, as they struggled to recognize chessmen designs that they were unfamiliar with.

The chess world was rapidly coming around to the need for convergence and standardization in chessmen design. This is what led to the emergence of the now famous line of Staunton Chessmen in 1849, which, within the short span of a couple of years, became established as the global design standard for chessmen.

Staunton chessmen and its variants

The Staunton line of chessmen was named after and endorsed by arguably the greatest chess player of his generation, British chess master Howard Staunton. Journalist, Nathaniel Cooke was credited with the original design, while the set itself was introduced to the world by John Jacques, proprietor of the renowned sports and games equipment manufacturer and retailer - Jacques of London.  

The 3.75” Jacques Cook Staunton Chessmen

Since then, several variants of the Staunton style have evolved across different parts of the world. While some appear as though they diverge quite a bit from the original blueprint, there is an underlying unity to their fundamental design grammar.

 
The 4.5” Staunton Reproduction Chessmen in Ebony and Antiqued Boxwood

Many of these variants have won global acclaim in their own right. Some are renowned for having been used during memorable matches or tournaments. Others have been immortalized for being favored by certain celebrity grandmasters.

Characteristic Staunton design features

Created for ease of handling and playability, this ergonomic design was seen to have had the perfect combination of elegance in form and robustness of function. Shorn of extravagant ornamentation characterizing many of the designs in use across Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Staunton design drew inspiration from the surviving columns and arches that survive that typify the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome. But it also drew from the neoclassical architectural style of Victorian London.

 
The 3.9” Lessing Series of chessmen in Ebony and Boxwood

The King’s crown is topped by a pattee – a distinctly Christian symbol. The Queen’s many-pointed coronet is topped by a simple ball. The Bishop’s wears a mitre with a distinctive cleft, while the rook has the crenelated battlements commonly seen in the castles spread across the English countryside.

But the showstopper among the Staunton chessmen – as is the case with most chess sets – is the knight. Modelled after the steed of the Greek lunar Goddess Selene, as depicted by the Elgin marbles – a collection of marble sculptures depicting the Greek pantheon. Currently housed at the British Museum, this collection was removed from the Parthenon by Thomas Bruce – the 7th Earl of Elgin.

An extensive Staunton collection

As global leaders in the chess supplies business, Royal Chess Mall offers an extensive range of replicas of some of the most famous Staunton and Staunton-inspired chessmen. Here is a glimpse of some of the gems in our collection.