"chess set", "chess sets", "chess pieces", "chess museum", "schaak"
 

France

French makers. Unfortunately I do know little of French makers in early days, but wooden "Régence" and "Staunton" sets have been made in France in the area around Saint Claude in the Jura in huge quantities, because boxwood was present in huge quantities. This was important for chess set manufacturing in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Henry Lardy, being the biggest, Henri Chavet, Michel Roz, Vauchier et fils and Jurabuis are all chess set manufacturers. Likely there were some more.

Lardy was founded in 1890 and situated in Dortan in the French Jura. Their dominance of chess set making was in period 1930ies till early 1970ies, when they sold their sets all over the world. Late 1980ies they stopped producing chess sets, because they couldn't compete with cheap sets from India. Apparently their shop closed in 1992. The Lardy pattern has been licensed to many other manufactures around the world. See for instance Hempfling “Staunton”  (Germany) or Homas 20st century  (Netherlands). Lardy chessmen were available felted and unfelted, as well as weighted and unweighted. They ranged in size from the small set with a 2-3/4” King, to large Club-size sets with King heights over 4-3/4”. Next to the Lardy pattern with it's characteristic Knight, they made also better quality sets with knights having glass eyes.

I do not know who made the Galalith "Régence" and "Staunton" sets in early 20th century. They are quite hard to find and I do not think they were mass produced. Pieces had to be turned and carved by hand and they usually come in a suitable cassette. And I wonder what the price of Galalith was in those days? Most likely these sets were already expensive at the time.



France. "Lyon" sets are called after the city Lyon, but it is not known whether the sets actually were made there. They have been produced in same period as "Directoire": from beginning 18th century till the end of it.

The "Phrygien" variation is sometimes seen as separate type.  It has Knights with a helmet in use at end of Louis XIV (1715), but Bishop's shape seems a bit later. The Phrygian helmet, also known as the Thracian helmet, was a type of helmet that originated in ancient Greece and was widely used in Thrace, Dacia, Magna Graecia and the Hellenistic world until well into the Roman Empire. The names given to this type of helmet are derived from its shape, in particular the high and forward inclined apex, in which it resembles the caps (usually of leather) habitually worn by Phrygian and Thracian peoples. Later on, e.g. during French Revolution, Phrygian caps did function as liberty symbol. 

You see "Lyon" sets which are all bone, one side bone and other wood, or all wood sets with bone decorations. I do not know of ivory "Lyon" sets.

One typical pattern is the so called "Inverted Lyon" pattern, where bodies seem upside down and Kings and Queens have bone skirts to their bellies. I think the term "Inverted Lyon" was coined by our old friend Garrick Coleman. He certainly claimed it and thought he would at least be remembered for this if nothing else.

« of 6 »
  • France, "Lyon"/"Phrygien"
  • Early to mid 18th century
  • Bone + wood K 7.2; p 3.7
  • Box 26.8×10.6×6.5
« of 4 »
  • France, "Lyon"
  • 18th century
  • Bone K 8.1; p 4.0
  • Box 27.8×16.1×6.7
  • France, "Lyon"
  • 18th century
  • Wood/bone K 8.0; p 4.4
« of 3 »
  • France, "inverted Lyon"
  • 18th century
  • Wood/bone K 7.9; p 4.4

France. "Directoire" is the name we use today for the sets with abstract Knights, in contrary to "Régence" sets. There is some discussion what is Knight and what is Bishop. The source of this is the "Encyclopédie" of Diderot/D'Alembert, which describes chess pieces in order of height and not according places on the board. For us, used to "Staunton" pattern, that's odd. The taller piece is the Knight ("Cavalier") and the piece with cut collar is the Bishop ("Fou"). The cut collar consist 2 oblique cuts and 2 or 3 small incisions. In old "Régence" sets you see similar bishops. However, in real live the sets were often used with swapped Knights and Bishops, I suppose.

"Directoire" sets have been made from beginning of the 18th century until the end of it. Or maybe still in early 19th century. Those days it could be a cheaper alternative for the "Régence" sets, because the knights don't need to be carved. Today it is opposite, because of the rarity.

The name for the sets is a bit odd, because Directoire is the name for the final four years (1795-1799) period of the French Revolution, when there was a five-member government called the Directory. However, the chess sets have been made in a much longer period.

The first "Directoire" set displayed here is early to mid 18th century and does still have the original box. Only a few of these boxes survived. Not many complete sets of that time as well.

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  • France, "Directoire"
  • Early to mid 18th century
  • Boxwood and rosewood K 9.1; p 5.2
  • Box 15.0×8.8×8.6
« of 4 »
  • France, "Directoire"
  • Mid to late 18th century
  • Ivory + ebony K 8.5; p 5.5
  • Box 17.4×11.4×6.2 (not pictured)
« of 3 »
  • France, "Directoire"
  • Mid to late 18th century
  • Boxwood K 8.3; p 4.5

France. "Régence" sets are called after "Café de la Régence", a famous chess café in Paris from 1718 till 1910 when it became a restaurant. In the café they used this type of set. Main difference with "Directoire" sets is the figural Knight. Note that Keats and some others call these sets "St.George".

The "Régence" sets have been produced from a bit before 2nd quarter 18th century till even today. It was the most widely used pattern, certainly at the continent, as standard before the "Staunton" sets took over. In 1924 the FIDE declared "Staunton" as standard for their tournaments as well, after which the "Régence" style was used less and less.

It is not easy to date the sets accurately, because of their long production period in both France and its colonies as well as in other countries by many manufacturers. Generally spoken, the sets evolved from tender fragile pieces to thicker ones. This applies to all aspects like the stems and finials. Bishops did not change that much further, although they lost their cuts at the collar in due time. Knights heads became less tall. Rooks became more straight, including a 20th century variant without separate base. Pawns evolved from having a very small, or even almost absent, collar to wider ones and to an extra small collar in the stem, as we see in 20th century sets.

Most of the Régence sets have been made of boxwood, only occasionally combined with either ebony or rosewood. Ivory and bone sets are known as well. Ivory sets can be very beautiful. The one listed here is one of my favourites, and I do consider it the finest set I do have in my collection.

The pewter set has turned pieces and hand-carved knights. You can see the turning marks on the pieces. The set was bought in England, but the shape is almost identical to the French Régence sets of late 19th till early 20th century. I must assume it is French.

The 2 late 19th or early 20th century wooden sets are very common and were in use at home and in chess clubs as well. The set of the Dutch chess player does have better knights than average. Sometimes I do see a set where the bottoms have a number. Chess clubs did that trying to keep sets together. That didn't work always, as sets with different numbers on the bottom proof. You see this mixture also at Staunton chess sets used in clubs, even at Jaques sets.

The last 4 sets are early 20th century sets. I have put the large wooden set (1st of the 4) in a box that's made as in early to mid 18th century, but the box looks not that old and I'm not sure about the nails. Interesting is the small label of which one part is unreadable to me, but below that says 22f, which is 22 Franc I believe. As we don't know what was in the box originally, we still have no periodic price indication of this particular Régence set. The Galalith "Régence" set is hard to find complete with cassette and board. That board is the only one I have seen! Some pieces are glued, but that does not distract from the beauty of this set, which is one of my favourites. At time of production these sets must have been expensive. The material was quite new and trendy and the pieces all had to be made by hand. Especially the knights are beautifully carved! No wonder you don't see much of these.

« of 7 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • Mid to late 18th century
  • Boxwood K 8.3; p 4.8
  • Box 19.3×12.9×7.1
« of 3 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • Mid to late 18th century
  • Boxwood K 8.5; p 4.3
« of 5 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • 18th-19th century
  • Boxwood K 6.8; p 4.1
  • Original? box 16.3×10.3×5.8
« of 3 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • Early 19th century
  • Wood K 8.5; p 4.4
« of 3 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • Early 19th century
  • Ivory K 8.9; p 4.9
  • Box 22.3×12.5×6.5
« of 3 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • Mid 19th century
  • Boxwood K 9.8; p 6.2
  • Box 21.5×15.2×11.9
  • From The Martine Jeannin Gallery, 13, rue Jacob, Paris
« of 2 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • Late 19th century
  • Boxwood K 10.5; p 5.9
« of 10 »
  • France or England? "Régence"
  • Late 19th century
  • Some heavy metal K 6.8; p 3.9
  • Tin box 10.9×15.4×3.9
  • The set is bought in England, so maybe made in England?
  • Turned pieces with hand carved knights.
522 01
« of 3 »
  • France or Netherlands, "Régence"
  • Late 19th or early 20th century
  • Boxwood K 9.1; p 4.5
  • Belonged to Dutch chess player
« of 3 »
  • France?, "Régence"
  • Late 19th or early 20th century
  • Boxwood K 8.4; p 4.3
« of 8 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • ca. 1910-1920
  • Boxwood K 9.0; p 5.0
  • Box (not original) 15.9×13.0×9.7
« of 5 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • ca. 1910-1920
  • Boxwood K 7.8; p 4.2
« of 10 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • ca. 1920
  • Galalith K 7.7; p 4.3
  • Cassette 32.0×32.0×5.2
  • Board 29.6×29.6
« of 3 »
  • France, "Régence"
  • ca. 1930
  • Boxwood K 8.7; p 4.6
  • Original box 19.1×10.8×7.5

France. "Staunton" set made of Galalith of which I do not know the maker, but cassete says "Made in France". Maybe produced in the Jura. I think these rare sets are very collectable, although many collectors do ignore them!

« of 2 »
  • France, "Staunton"
  • ca. 1920
  • Galalith K 7.7; p 3.7
  • Cassette 31.0×24.7×4.5

France. These 2 sets are listed as "Galalith or Bakelite" and ca.1920, but could be of some other plastic (Catalin?) and of some later date (1950?) as well. I'm not sure. I noticed that the disks at the set with checkers could be of another plastic as the chess pieces. Need some more investigation here...

« of 2 »
  • France, "Staunton"
  • ca. 1920
  • Galalith or Bakelite K 3.2; p 2.5
  • Box 37.0×26.8×7.7
  • Board 21.5×21.5
  • Set "Made in France" for "Juegos y juguetes", "Arnau", "Fernando 18 Barcelona"
« of 3 »
  • France, "Staunton"
  • ca. 1920
  • Galalith or Bakelite K 3.2; p 2.5
  • Box 30.0×24.0×7.0
  • Board 20.0×20.0

France. This Staunton chess set from 1968 was a gift of my parents and I used that set many years to play with. I simply did not have another playable set! It was not my very first one, that one is lost, but the longest present in my collection. Most likely it is a Lardy set, but there is no Lardy label, only a sticker on the bottom of the box stating "Made in France".

« of 2 »
  • France, by Lardy? "Staunton"
  • 1968
  • Olive wood + rosewood K 8.5; p 4.1
  • Box 21.2×13.5×7.0

France. This 1970 chess set is an ordinary boxwood "Staunton" set, made by one of the makers in the Jura. I do not know who, but if someone knows, please tell me. This set is equal to my first set that I used to learn chess with. Or maybe it is just a bit larger than my lost set. In my childhood I could only afford a small set!

« of 2 »
  • France, "Staunton"
  • 1970
  • Boxwod K 7.5; p 3.5
  • Box 19.4×10.1×6.6

France. This Chavet chess set from 2000 was a gift of Nicholas Lanier when I visited him august 2016.

« of 6 »
  • France, by Chavet Chess, "Staunton"
  • 2000
  • Wood K 7.5; p 3.6
  • Box 18.0×11.4×6.8

France. I do have some French Miscellaneous sets which I cannot categorize. One set has been made by a furniture maker and that set can be used for play well, but is also decorative.

The aluminium set by Lexon is meant more decorative as playable. This purple set can be found in the 2007 Lexon catalogue, together with a black anodised version. A green one does also exist.

« of 3 »
  • France, Agonac, by a furniture maker
  • 1998
  • Beech K 6.8; p 4.5
« of 2 »
  • France, by Lexon, "LH 19"
  • 2005
  • Aluminium K 7.6; p 4.4
  • Cassette/board 26.6×28.0×2.9
  • Design by Marc Berthier

France. At last there is a set which easily could be used as travel set as well. Not to say it is a travel set. Didn't want to omit those in my French playing chess set pages.

« of 5 »
  • France
  • ca. 1930?
  • Wood Pieces 1.9 (without pins)
  • Box 21.1×21.3×3.9