Lot #494. Antique Ayres Club Size Staunton Chessmen
Antique Ayres Staunton Chessmen.
Offered here is a fine set of Club Size Boxwood and Ebony Antique Ayres Staunton Chessmen. The King stands 4.2″ tall with a 1.8″ diameter base. The chessmen are weighted and rest atop green baize base pads. The chess pieces are housed in their undivided Mahogany hinge-top box which is lined in green English baize. This particular set of Staunton Chessmen was produced around 1890. The earlier sets featured very detailed Knight heads which bore a striking resemblance to Knights produced by John Jaques of London. There are crown impressions on the summits of the Kingside Rooks and Knights. These Antique Ayres Staunton Chessmen play and display best on a chessboard with 2-3/8″ or 2-1/2″ squares. The chessmen are in excellent condition. The chessboard shown is not included, but a suitable chessboard can be found here.
F. H. Ayres was an English sports and Games manufacturer and retailer dating back to 1810, doing business in Aldersgate in the city of London. It is known from various ads that they produced and sold Chess sets of various quality and styles. However, despite putting their name on most of their other products, they never put their name on their chess sets. This has led to a real problem of identifying which style Staunton chessmen they did produce and whether they sold them at the retail level or only wholesale to retailer or other manufacturers.
A report in the June, 1895 issue of Strand Magazine, by William G. Fitzgerald, documents visits to several London firms that made sporting goods. The visit to F. H. Ayres takes up most of the space in the article. The article contains many images, though not actual photographs, but ‘half-tone’ images. The article in the Strand Magazine article stated that Ayres employed twenty craftsmen making chess sets. Also, please note the attached ad for Ayres chessmen. It does not appear to look anything like the set we are discussing. Aside from a few ads by Ayres illustrating rather ubiquitous images of Staunton chessmen designs, there was never a catalog produced by Ayers illustrating the range and prices of chessmen offered by them or any supporting images of their various designs. There have been some suggestions that these sets were made by a different company (Jaques or BCC), but heretofore, no documentary evidence has been produced to support or refute these assertions.
Until now, this style of chessmen had been attributed to F. H. Ayres with no clear proof of attribution. The Chessmen are of very high quality, almost the equal of Jaques of London chessmen from the early 1900s. All this has led to a running debate – What is an Ayres Chess set? The argument in favor of Ayres previously went something like this: “Ayers made wooden Staunton chess pieces. This is a set of Staunton chess pieces. Ergo, Ayres made these chessmen.” Heretofore, other than that argument, nothing more substantive had been put forward supporting the thesis that these sets were made by F. H. Ayres. However, our ongoing research into this mystery has uncovered this revealing page from a Benetfink & Company ad for their chessmen. This advertisement by Benetfink will put finally this discussion to rest.