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Shakespeare & Beyond

A game of chess

chess board with pieces
chess board with pieces

In celebration of International Chess Day on July 20, take a closer look at some unusual chess sets in the Folger collection, which architect and chess collector John Harbeson gave to the Folger in 1979. The chess sets pictured below span continents and centuries, although many details about their histories are still unknown.

This green-and-white chess set is Chinese ivory, ca. 1830, made for trade with Europe.

This chess set, also green and white, is similar to a set that James II gave to Samuel Pepys, the famous 17th-century English diarist.

The pieces on the chess board pictured above actually come from two different sets. They are thought to have been owned by Maurice de Saxe (1696-1750), an illegitimate son of Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony. Maurice, Count of Saxony, was famous for his military exploits, perhaps reinforcing the connection often made between skill in chess and success on the battlefield.

The date for this beautiful inlaid chess board is unknown, but if you look closely you’ll see how the ivory squares are decorated in pen-and-ink with hunting figures, animals, and plants. On the reverse, there is a backgammon board decorated with flowers.

With special thanks to Senior Cataloger Erin Blake