Lot #26. British Chess Company Popular Chessmen, 3-1/2″ King



British Chess Company Popular Chessmen, 3-1/2″ King.

A set of British Chess Company Popular chessmen with green baize base pads. These vintage chessmen are natural and ebonized Boxwood. The King stands 3-1/2″ tall with a 1-7/16″ diameter base. All the chessmen still have their original green baize base pads. These style chessmen are characterized by the large-headed Bishops and the incomplete formée cross finials atop the Kings. The “cross”  is missing the two “facing” cuts which give the cross its final shape. Apparently, someone thought that the unfinished Cross was interesting enough to offer it as a separate product! The chessmen are housed in their original hinge-top Mahogany box. These particular chessmen were produced around 1895. The chessmen are in average condition for their age and have developed a very pleasing honey patina.  The Black Queen and one Boxwood Pawn are replacements. One Black Rook has a broken crenelation. These chessmen were sold under The British Chess Company name.

BCC Popular Ad

    BCC Popular Ad

The British Chess Company (BCC) was founded by William Moffatt (1843-1918) and William Hughes, and began manufacturing chess pieces in 1891 until their apparent demise in around 1907 or so.  The BCC attempted to compete for the chess set market against the established firm of Jaques of London. Their unique contribution to the design of Staunton chessmen, aside from their patented Imperial and Royal chessmen, was their use of Xylonite. Invented in 1869, Xylonite is a Celluloid, a class of compounds created from nitrocellulose and camphor. (Xylonite is generally considered the first thermoplastic.) Moffatt devised a method of reducing the cost or producing chessmen by molding the Knight heads from Xylonite. Carving the Knight heads can represent almost 50% of the total cost of producing a set of quality chessmen. In this manner, BCC was able to manufacture a set of high quality chessmen at half the cost of its competitors. It is sometimes claimed that BCC stopped producing their own chessmen around 1903, with other chess activities continuing for a few more years. However, that claim has not been substantiated and there is ample evidence that shows their still offering chessmen as late as 1907. Additional information on the British Chess Company can be found in the following article.