This month we are pleased to feature an item so excrutiatingly uncommon we were willing to starve to own it. This chess set was uncovered by Robert Taylor in Indiana in his French teacher's basement. Apparently she had slipped into Alzheimer's dementia and he was helping her clean out her basement of assorted books and doo-dads when he came across this set wrapped in rotting foam rubber. Much to his surprise and ours, Robert found it to be complete and each piece flawless. No board could be found. The best the story can be recalled she had apparently found the set in the 1970's at some sort of flea market, garage sale or similar venue. No further info is available.
Examination of the set reveals each piece without storage defect. One grouping is of the Axis, the other the Allies. Roosevelt and Churchill are king, queen respectively. Bishops are a Russian, probably Stalin. The rooks are the capitol building. The knights are stylized US flat fender jeeps. Pawns are represented by the US star seen on so many period aircraft.
The Axis grouping features hitler and mussolini as king, queen respectively. Bishops are the wile buck-toothed tojo. The rooks are almost certainly representative of hitler's Austrian mountain-top retreat, the Berchtesgarten. The knights are stylized Nazi tanks, cornerstone of the now infamous blitzkrieg. Pawns feature the savage swastika.
Bases of the pieces measure about 1 3/8". Height of hitler is approximately 5". The color is wonderfully variable, the Allied pieces ranging from a gooey oatmeal to a sea mist green so characteristic of period pottery. The axis pieces are perhaps a more uniform ivory.
Closer examination of the pieces reveals why this set is so precious. Roosevelt is feautured in his campaign pose with omnipresent hat in hand. Churchill is posed in his staunch, bulldog like posture, cigar in mouth as always. The Russian figure dressed in winter clothing possibly representing Stalin, has behind his back a club or knife reflecting the mistrust the Allies had for him and Russia. Much of this certainly stemmed from the pact that Stalin signed with hitler prior to the US entry into the war. After signing the pact the Allies considered Stalin an enemy and is reflected in many of the earliest period pieces. This finding helps date this chess set to no earlier than 1940. In light of the flat fender jeeps this further helps us date the set to no earlier than 1941 when the Bantam flat fender jeep began to appear.
Inspection of the Axis pieces shows hitler in his oratorial pose reflecting the boisterous, pressured speech of which he became so notorious. At hitler's side is a baboonesque mussolini. His pose is that of a mindless thug subservient to hitler. Flanking them is the buck-toothed japanese figure probably meant to be tojo, the prime minister war monger of Imperialist Japan. The decision to make the jap figure a bishop and not a queen may have been based on the stereotypic small stature of the Japanese people. It also reflects how the Japanese military was viewed at the time, scurrying around the Pacific and trying to get into all the bananas so to speak from Singapore to the Aleutians.
Conversations with chess set collectors, anti-axis collectors and homefront collectors have established only one thing; that noone in this circle has ever seen anything like this set. There are no distinguishing marks that might provide a clue to its origin. The lack of uniformity of the glaze coupled to the color spectrum of the Allied pieces indicates a probably smaller production number and is more likely to be a period set than newer production. We are not certain this is a period set but we suspect so. We estimate the fair market value of this set to be $1500.00. This is based on the value of each piece as a stand-alone figurine plus fudge factors for condition, completeness and rarity.
We welcome comments by anyone who may have more information on this set. This item will be featured in the Dream Gallery after it is removed from this column. See you next month with another treasure. Until then, Happy collecting!!!!!