Antique Ayres Library Size Chessmen, Richard Whitty Box.
Offered here is a fine set of Staunton pattern F. H. Ayres Library Size Chessmen or more commonly the SCA Staunton Chessmen. This set of chessmen is crafted from Boxwood and Ebony and has a 3-1/8″ tall by 1-1/8″ diameter base King. The chessmen are weighted and rest atop green baize base pads. The chess pieces are housed in an undivided, unlined Mahogany hinge-top box which is stamped “R Whitty, Titthebarn St., Liverpool”. Although the basic box design is correct for these chessmen, SCA weighted chessmen were always housed in green baize-lined boxes while the unweighted sets were in unlined boxes like this. This particular set of Staunton Chessmen were produced around 1910. Earlier sets of this style featured a 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. The chessmen are in excellent condition. It is highly doubtful that the chessmen were originally sold in this box. It is also possibly that some unscrupulous seller stamped the box in an attempt to pass it on a authentic, a praxis that is seen all too often on eBay and in other auction venues these days.The Antique Ayres Library Size Chessmen play and display best on a chessboard with 1-7/8″ or 2″ squares. The chessboard shown is not included, but a suitable chessboard can be found here.
This style of chessmen is often attributed to F. H. Ayres or The British Chess Company. Probably, the most appropriate moniker that should be applied when referring to them is SCA (So Called Ayres) Chessmen. Regardless who actually produced this chess set, they are of very high quality, almost the equal of Jaques of London chessmen from the 1930s.
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. Information on the British Chess Company can be found here and in the following article.
All this has led to a running debate – What is an Ayres Chess set? The argument in favor of Ayres goes something like this. “Ayers made wooden chessmen. This is a set of wooden chessmen. ergo, Ayres made these chessmen. other than that argument, nothing more substantive has been put forward supporting the thesis that these sets were made by F. H. Ayres. The image to the left is from an Ayres ad for their Staunton chessmen. Compare this image with the chessmen offered here and elsewhere, claiming to be made by F. H. Ayres. It is not very convincing.
The observation in the Strand Magazine article that Ayres employed twenty craftsmen making chess sets does not suggest a very large operation. Also, please note the attached ad for Ayres chessmen. It does not appear to looks anything like the set we are discussing (image attached). At least, the BCC ads closely resemble their sets as my previous email clearly shows. At the end of 1891, BCC produced its first catalog illustrating their registered designs. However, 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 nor any supporting images of their various designs. here have been some suggestions that these sets were made by a different company (Jaques or BCC) but so far no documentary evidence has been produced to support or refute this assertion.