British Chess Company Staunton Chess Pieces
A set of Antique British Chess Company Staunton Chess pieces, unweighted, with green baize base pads. The chessmen are Boxwood and Ebony. The King stands 3-3/8″ tall with a 1-1/2″ diameter base. The King’s Rooks have the King’s crown stamp impressed on their summits. The Knights bear their Kingside markings on their bases. The unique feature of the early British Chess Company chessmen was the use of cast Xylonite, an early Celluloid plastic for the Knight heads to lower cost. These Antique British Chess Company Chess pieces are the Staunton Chessmen offered by The British Chess Company in the early 1890s. The chessmen are housed in a replacement mahogany box. The British Chess Company also made full chess sets from Xylonite, as well as chess boards. The authentic mid-Victorian Mahogany-framed chess board with 2″ squares and the antique Fattorini & Son Chess Clock are not included with these chessmen, but are available elsewhere on this site.
The British Chess Company (BCC) was founded by William Moffatt (1843-1918) and William Hughes. They began manufacturing chess pieces in 1891 and remained a minor competitor to Jaques of London in the high-end chess set market until their apparent demise around 1907 or so. This particular design, originally referred to as the “Royal Chessmen“, was renamed the British Chess Company Improved Staunton Chess pieces. By reinforcing the collars of the Pawns and changing the look of the Knights, Moffatt hoped to differentiate his chessmen from the more popular upscale Jaques Staunton chessmen.
Moffatt’s unique contribution to the design of Staunton chessmen, aside from their patented Imperial and Royal chessmen, was his 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.