C. H. Bird Antique Chessmen, College Size.
Offered here is an rather unusual set of College-Size C. H. Bird Antique Chessmen. The King stands 3.4″ tall with a 1.4″ diameter base. These vintage chess sets were produced around 1920. The Chess set is black and natural lacquered. The unusual feature of the C. H. Bird chessmen is the unique Knight. In order to save on the cost of having the Knight heads hand-carved, these Knights were cast Aluminum. As a result, the Knights were lacquered to match the color of the wood. Unfortunately, wood ages with time., The white Knights have remained nearly the same color, while the natural wood chessmen have darkened over time. The chessmen are housed in their original dark-stained oak box. There is some minor loss of lacquer to the Black Knights, but otherwise, the pieces are in very good condition. These chess pieces play and display best on a chessboard with 2-0″ or 2-1/8″ squares, For a complete selection of our finest new and antique chessboards, please check out our extensive collection.
The exact date when the C. H. Bird company was started is not known for certain, but an article appearing in the January 1922 issue of The Woodworker titled “Manufacturing Chessmen” given by a lecturer from the C. H. Bird company, who quotes Bird, provides some clues. That article would suggest that the C.H. Bird company was founded around 1920. Research on the subject by Frank Camaratta can be found here.
That article describes the approach C. H. Bird took to try and produce a more cost-competitive set of chessmen. Basically, he designed the Knights as slab-sided, carved from a single piece of wood. The style of the new Chess Knight is illustrated on the later production labels (Shown here) and affixed to the chess sets sold by the company. Also, note the mention of his use of Pyroxilin Enamel to finish his chessmen rather than the more costly and less durable than the traditional European French Polish. Pyralin is the name of a plastic created in the late 1800’s based on nitrocellulose. Nitrocellulose, also known as celluloid, was one of the most extensively used plastics of the time. Interestingly, this is exactly the same Knight carving approach taken by William T. Pinney to save on the cost of carving the Knight heads, which was expensive and tine-consuming.
According to the advertisement in the 1932 issue of The Chess Reporter, Bird’s chessmen were available in two sizes, the Small Club-Size Chessmen, 3.6” King with a 1.5” diameter base and all the pieces weighted felted, and the smaller College-Size Chessmen, where only the major pieces were weighted and the Pawns had extra wide bases – a rather curious decision.