Prior to the creation of the Staunton chess set, the king along with all the other chess pieces were often ornately carved in likenesses of human figures.
After chess moved to Europe in the 15th century, revisions were made to the game including the appearance of the pieces. The new Staunton set was created and allowed for easier production and semblance of standardization.
One of the main distinctive features of the staunton chess king is the cross on it’s head. One may argue why is there a cross on the head of the king and what does it really depicts?
In this article we get a chance to unravel what this really means. Let’s take a look.
Why Does The King In Chess Have A Cross?
The king in chess have a cross on it’s head to symbolize the Christian nature of the monarchy. The addition of the cross on the king also helped to make it distinct from the queen especially in the symbolic nature of the Staunton set.
The Staunton chess set, a widely accepted standard for 160 years, was a subtle amalgam of Classical, Gothic, and clean modern lines. A patent was registered on March the 1st 1849.
A patent however needed to be enforceable. The major challenge for the designer would have been to retain the look simple meanwhile discouraging amateur and small-scale copyists.
Some features which achieved this were common to all pieces: the lead weighting of the base with its glued-on felt cover; the very limited range of woods which could both be turned to the desired shapes and be durable; the varnishes which enhanced the look and contributed to durability.
The knight was the most challenging piece for the small-scale producer to replicate, but other pieces made a contribution too; the king’s was its tricky-to-make cross on top.
As the king was by far the largest Staunton piece, its cross-frippery was not strictly needed for recognition; but it also allowed the otherwise absurd echoes atop the queen and bishop, almost as difficult to replicate.
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Designing The Staunton Chess Set
The design allowed a range of qualities to be manufactured; the relatively shoddy would chip or break within a few years of normal use, though would last longer used solely as a display item. Higher quality sets were more durable, though far from indestructible.
To what extent were the designer and patent-holder pushing the manufacturing limits of the time, and how far were they building-in obsolescence? Perhaps readers will share their thoughts.
The Staunton set’s lines were sufficiently universal and adaptable not to clash with later styles, such as the soon to emerge Arts and Crafts Movement, and then Art Nouveau; which must have helped the design become established.
This Alma-Tadema painting of 1865 rewards contemplation; the Staunton chess set must have been widely recognised in the UK by then. The column on the left and its detail prefigures Art Nouveau; the rest you can probably work out for yourself.
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