Chess Playing Pieces

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When King Charles II succeeded to the English throne after the defeat of the Puritans, he popularized games of all kinds including billiards, backgammon, nine pins, and chess. Enthusiasm for these games spread as far as the Chesapeake region. Chess had been a favorite game of his ill-fated father, Charles I, who reportedly had brought an amber chess board to his execution during the English Civil War.

Benjamin Franklin was a fan of chess and helped popularize it in America. In the essay “The Morals of Chess” he advised, “The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.” Sets such as this one would have been prized objects in an early 19th century Annapolis game room.

The game of chess originated in eastern India as far back as the third century and grew steadily in popularity in Asia, the Middle East, and eventually Europe, where it was brought by Persian traders. This elaborate set was made in the early 19th century in China from Indian ivory. The expertly carved pieces depict the Mongols fighting the Chinese, one of three main themes created for export.

This set was donated by Florence Bayard Hilles (1865-1954), who was an important player in the American women’s suffrage movement. In 1943 Hilles founded the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum’s library that bears her name, It is the oldest Feminist Library in the United States. To learn more about Hilles read this article written by her great niece, Jane Bayard Curley

Image of a Chess Playing Piece
Chess Playing Piece
Medium:  Ivory from India
Misc.7 Gift of Florence Bayard Hilles

Chinese, Early 19th Century

By Rachel Lovett Curator & Assistant Director

Posted on Jul 2, 2021 in , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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