E. S. Lowe Bakelite Staunton Chessmen

Lot #363. E. S. Lowe Bakelite Staunton Chessmen, 3-7/8″ King

E. S. Lowe Bakelite Staunton Chessmen, 3-7/8″ King.

Offered here is an excellent set of E. S. Lowe Bakelite Staunton Chessmen, Butterscotch and Black. This set of chessmen has a full tournament size King, 3-7/8″ tall by 1-1/2″ diameter base. the chessmen are an assemblage of two pieces that screw together. These particular E.S. Lowe Bakelite Staunton chessmen were produced around 1925-1930. The chessmen are in excellent condition and are housed in a brown leatherette lined and compartmented briefcase. The chess pieces play and display best on a chessboard with 2-1/4″ squares. No Chessboard is included with these chess pieces, but a suitable chessboard can be found here.

Edwin S. Lowe (E. S. Lowe) (1911 – February 23, 1986) was a U.S. toy maker and entrepreneur whose promotion of a game he renamed “Bingo” made it popular as a national pastime. E. S. Lowe Company produced bingo games and materials in addition to plastic toys and the still-popular dice game Yahtzee. Lowe was born in Poland, relocating to the United States at the age of eighteen. While working as a traveling toy salesman in December 1929, Lowe encountered a group at a Georgia carnival engaged in a game called Beano. Returning to his Brooklyn, NY, home, he organized a game with several friends, one of whom became so excited at winning, she shouted “Bingo!” The local popularity of the game prompted Lowe to print game cards, which he later sold under the name Bingo. He established the E. S. Lowe Company for the production of his Bingo game cards, which initially were released as 24-card sets.

E. S. Lowe produced miniature chess and checker game sets that circulated widely among U.S. service personnel in World War II. The company continued to produce games and plastic toys after the war. In 1956, he bought rights from a Canadian couple who approached him with a concept of a game that they played on their yacht. Lowe highlighted its origins in naming the game Yahtzee. In 1959, Lowe produced the Renaissance Chess Set which featured highly detailed chess pieces based on the Renaissance period. The impressive design of these chessmen is still highly regarded today and the chess set is a popular collectors item. Milton Bradley purchased E. S. Lowe Company in 1973 for $26 million. An excellent history of the E. S. Lowe Company can be found in Duncan Polh’s excellent article.

Bakelite, or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is an early plastic. It is a thermo-setting phenol formaldehyde resin, developed by Belgian-born chemist Leo Baekeland in New York in 1907. Baekeland was already as successful inventor due to his invention of Velox photographic paper, when he began to investigate the reactions of phenol and formaldehyde. Chemists had begun to recognize that many natural resins and fibers were polymers. Baekeland’s initial intent was to find a replacement for shellac, a material that was in limited supply because it was made naturally from the excretion of lac bugs. Baekeland produced a soluble phenol-formaldehyde shellac called “Novolak”, but it was not a market success. One of the first plastics made from synthetic components, Bakelite was used for its electrical non-conductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings, and such diverse products as kitchenware and children’s toys. The “retro” appeal of old Bakelite products has made them collectible.

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