The History of Staunton Chessmen
The story of how the Staunton chess set came into being has become something of a legend. Like many legends the true facts are debated and there is more than one version of exactly what happened during those fateful days of 1849. There were three key people involved, Howard Staunton, Nathaniel Cook and John Jaques. Howard Staunton was a prominent chess player at the time, in fact he was considered to be the world's number one between 1843 and 1851. Rumour has it that Howard was becoming increasingly frustrated with the wide variety of chess sets that were being used in tournaments at the time. Russian players would be using native designs where he could barely tell the pieces apart. It was affecting the outcomes of the matches and the time was right for a standard design.
Staunton wrote regular articles in the illustrated London news of which Nathaniel Cook was the editor. Staunton was of course writing about chess and his articles were widely regarded as being an authority on the subject. Nathaniel was the brother in law of John Jaques, the owner of the already long established games manufacturer in Hatton Garden, London. It is still unclear which one of these two men actually came up with the design for the chessmen. Some versions of the story suggest that Nathaniel designed them around prestigious London architecture while others suggest that John designed them around the practicality of mass production. Right now neither story can be confirmed, but itís safe to say that between these two men the design was formed.
Howard Staunton thought the design was excellent, Nathaniel asked him to write about it and essentially advertise and promote it in the illustrated London news. Staunton did this and championed the set among the chess playing community. The relationship was of course of mutual benefit, Jaques of London were no doubt delighted to have their new set endorsed and named after the world's top chess player.
On September 29, 1849 the set was made commercially available and through Staunton's endorsement it rapidly became favoured. It was soon adopted as the standard and became immensely popular with thousands of sets being produced and sold. Howard Staunton achieved all he wanted and more with these chess pieces, they are now internationally recognised as the tournament standard.
The Staunton chess pieces were no doubt instrumental in securing long lasting success for Jaques of London. The company remains in business today and is owned and run by direct descendants of John Jaques. They still sell and market assorted versions of the Staunton chess pieces although these days they do not manufacture them. Production is now outsourced to various far eastern countries including India.