Mid Victorian Gutta Percha Chessmen, red and black.
A very unusual and rare set of Mid Victorian Gutta Percha Chessmen, cast in red and black. The summits of the Kings bear a gold impressed symbol. The King stands 2-3/4″ tall. The plinths of each of the chessmen sport an Acanthus leaf motif, which is normally associated with Greek architecture. The bases of the chess pieces are lightly weighted. The chessmen were produced in the U.K. around 1850.The the chessmen are in excellent condition with some base chipping on a few of the chess pieces. The chessboard displayed with the pieces is not included in this sale.
What is Gutta Percha?
Scientifically classified in 1843, it was found to be a useful natural thermoplastic. During the second half of the 19th century, gutta-percha was used for myriad domestic and industrial purposes, and it became a household word. In particular, it was needed as insulation for underwater telegraph cables, which, according to author John Tully, led to unsustainable harvesting and a collapse of the supply.
According to Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd’s Endodontology: “Even long before Gutta-percha was introduced into the western world, it was used in a less processed form by the natives of the Malaysian archipelago for making knife handles, walking sticks and other purposes. The first European to discover this material was John Tradescant, who collected it in the far east in 1656. He named this material “Mazer wood”. Dr. William Montgomerie, a medical officer in Indian service, introduced gutta-percha into practical use in the West. He was the first to appreciate the potential of this material in medicine, and he was awarded the gold medal by the Royal Society of Arts, London in 1843.” A more detailed history of Gutta Percha can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutta-percha.