Jaques Tournament Steinitz Chessmen

Lot #479. Jaques Tournament Steinitz Chessmen, Circa 1865

Jaques Tournament Steinitz Chessmen, Circa 1865.

A set of Antique Jaques Tournament Steinitz Chessmen, Boxwood and Ebony, unweighted. These authentic Staunton chess pieces rest atop green baize base pads. “Jaques London” is inscribed on the base of the White King. This is a very attractive set with the very distinctive “Megamouth” Knights. The King stands 3-1.2″ tall with a 1-3/4″ diameter base. In the advertisements. This size was referred to as the “Tournament size”. This set of Jaques Tournament Steinitz Chessmen is housed in its original Mahogany slide-top box with its correct green manufacturer’s label according to the Camaratta Codex of Jaques Labels. The chess pieces are in excellent condition. These chessmen have developed a very pleasant honey-hue from almost 140 years of use. These Jaques Tournament Steinitz Chessmen were produced between 1865 and 1870 and followed the Late Jaques Anderssen designs. The chess pieces play and display best o a chessboard with 2-1/8″ or 2-1/4 squares. No chessboard is included in this sale, however, a suitable chessboard can be found here. An extensive inventory of antique and contemporary chess timers can be found by clicking here. Finally, a brief history of the John Jaques company and the Staunton chessmen can be found here and here.

Wilhelm Steinitz in 1866
Wilhelm Steinitz in 1866

Wilhelm Steinitz (May 17, 1836 – August 12, 1900) was an Austrian/American chess master, and the first undisputed World Chess Champion from 1886 to 1894. Steinitz was born on May 17, 1836, in the Jewish ghetto of Prague. The youngest of a tailor’s thirteen sons, he learned to play chess at age 12. He began playing serious chess in his twenties, after leaving Prague in 1857 to study mathematics in Vienna, at the Vienna Polytechnic.

Steinitz improved rapidly during the late 1850s, progressing from third place in the 1859 Vienna City championship to first in 1861, with a score of 30/31. During this period he had become the strongest player in Austria and was nicknamed “the Austrian Morphy”.

Between 1873 and 1882 Steinitz played no tournaments and only one match (a 7–0 win against Blackburne in 1876). His other games during this period were in simultaneous and blindfold exhibitions, which contributed an important part of a professional chess-player’s income in those days (for example in 1887 Blackburne was paid 9 guineas for two simultaneous exhibitions and a blindfold exhibition hosted by the Teesside Chess Association).

Steinitz returned to competitive chess in the Vienna 1882 chess tournament, which has been described as the strongest chess tournament up to that time. Despite a shaky start he took equal first place with Szymon Winawer, ahead of James Mason, Johannes Zukertort, George Henry Mackenzie, Joseph Blackburne, Berthold Englisch, Louis Paulsen and Mikhail Chigorin.

Steinitz was one of the most dominant players in the history of the game. Steinitz was unbeaten in match play for 32 years, from 1862 to 1894. Although Steinitz became “world number one” by winning in the all-out attacking style that was common in the 1860s, he unveiled a new positional style of play in 1873. His new style was controversial and some even branded it as “cowardly”, but many of Steinitz’ games showed that he could conduct attacks as ferocious as those of the old school. Steinitz lost his title to Emanuel Lasker in 1894, and lost a rematch in 1896–97.

In February 1897, the New York Times prematurely reported his death in a New York mental asylum. Some authors claim that he contracted syphilis, which may have been a cause of the mental breakdowns he suffered in his last years. In the months prior to his death, he spent some time in institutions as a result of his failing mental health. His chess activities had not yielded any great financial rewards and he died a pauper in the Manhattan State Hospital (Ward Island) of a heart attack on August 12, 1900. Steinitz is buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, New York. 

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