Late 18th Century Dieppe Chessmen.
Here is a very interesting set of Late 18th Century Dieppe Chessmen from the Northern France region, apparently dating to around 1780. The King stands 3.3” tall with a 1.1” diameter base. The pieces are natural and black-stained. The two armies represent the “Europeans vs. Moors” (Africans), the dominant themes at the time. Te chess pieces are in excellent condition. The chessboard shown is not included, but a suitable chessboard can be found elsewhere on this site. The chess pieces are circa 1880. Dieppe chess sets are characteristic in several ways in that the pieces are often bust type depictions of European royalty versus African royalty or Moor rulers, all of which are mounted on a turned base. In the set shown here, the white king of the European side wears a curly wig under his crown, while the Moor king is typical of an African wearing the crown on a cloth headdress. The rooks in Dieppe chess sets are usually cylindrical with a crenellated brickwork design. Knights in this Dieppe set are represented as horses mounted with a rider, which are also referred to as “hobbyhorse” knights. The design of the rider can provide some clues for dating this set. The other piece that allows the dating of a set is the pawn.
Dieppe is a small town located about 150 km northwest of Paris on the English Channel. It was the ivory carving center of France. Ivory carving is linked to Dieppe as early as the 14th century. Dieppe ivory turners and carvers were renowned for their artistry. Since Dieppe hosted one of the most important trading ports with the French colonies in Africa, ships brought, inter alia, a large quantity of ivory. The local craftsmen turned this material into a variety of products, among the rarer of which were some distinctive chess sets. Dieppe’s role as the center of ivory working was undisputed for a long period, due to the extensive ivory trade of the French colony in Senegal with France.
It is generally conceded that the 18th century represents the century of the finest works. In the 19th century examples can also be found in the treasuries of churches and in many royal collections. Here is an example of the workmanship and whimsical expressions carved into the bishops of the better sets by the more skilled sculptors. The workshops employed sculptors of varying skill levels– which shows in their works.