Biedermeier Antique Chess Set
A Biedermeier Antique Chess Set, Boxwood and Ebony, circa 1830. The King stands an impressive 4-3/8″ tall. The unweighted chessmen are in excellent, original condition. This antique chess set comes housed in its original wooden slide-top box with the manufacturer” label affixed to one side. It should be appreciated by the chess collector that weighting of the chessmen, and marking the summits of the King side Rooks and Knights, was not the praxis until the advent of the Staunton chessmen which were first offered to the public by the firm of John Jaques in 1849. The concept of adding lead ballast and marking the King side Knights and Rooks was the invention of either John Jaques (although the Staunton Chessmen design registration is under the name of Nathaniel Cooke). That praxis became relatively common in the years following and today, no serious set of chessmen is not weighted.
The “Biedermeier” period is often associated with a period of relative peace following the French Revolution in 1830. The Bishops of this design are characterized by the remarkable sloped headpiece with its protruding staff. The design of these chessmen are strongly inspired by the more primitive Selenus design of the 18th century. With a little imagination, one can discern, in somewhat abstract form, the heads of messengers or couriers, with a feather in their caps.
The archetype for the name given to these chessmen in Germany and Austria was derived from “Mr. meier” (der biedere Herr Meier). Apparently, this is an unostentatious style (of furniture and interior design popular among the middle classes in 19th century Germany) after Gottlieb Beidermeier, a satirical name given to the uninspired German bourgeois. Consequently, the chess sets produced during the early days of the 19th century in Germany and Austria are called Biedermeier chessmen. Biedermeier chessmen of the simpler type, like the ones shown here, were the standard playing sets in Central European coffeehouses for half a century or longer. They were ultimately supplanted by the new Staunton Pattern and later by the robust Austrian or Old Vienna Coffeehouse style, both of which were more durable and stable. The chessmen continued to be manufactured, but in significantly lesser quantities, until the late Victorian Period.