Antique Cantonese Puzzleball Chessmen.
Offered here is a set of large antique Cantonese Puzzleball Chessmen, produced in the Canton region in the early 19th Century. The chess set features the Europeans versus the Chinese emperor. The chessmen are hand-carved, natural and red-stained. The King stands an impressive 6” tall with a 1-1/2″ diameter base. The Rooks are portrayed as Elephants surmounted with riders and towers bearing flags, Knights are warriors atop steeds carrying swords and Bishops are portrayed as properly adorned clerics. All the chessmen rest atop elaborately carved ball-within-a-ball “Puzzleball” pedestal bases. The set is in excellent condition. This type of set was also manufactured with Emperor Napoleon and Empress Joséphine as the white King and Queen.
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These chess sets started to appear on the European Market around 1820 and continued throughout the Victorian Period. When Europeans, especially the British, became infatuated with Chinese and Indian decorative arts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Chinese craftsmen began to make increasingly elaborate chess sets catering to European tastes. These sets were made for the European Market and probably sold in Macao which was the only place in China where Europeans were allowed to visit prior to the Opium Wars of the 1840s.
The best of these sets were carved in Cantonese workshops, using fine ivory imported from India, and brought to Europe by the British East India Company. China has produced some of the most extraordinary chess sets in the world. The value of these sets is determined by the carving detail of all the pieces and number of concentric balls within the base pedestal. The most elaborate housing as many as six heavily carved concentric spheres.