Many of you may be aware of the three commercial Chess fonts offered by Alpine Electronics, Hastings, Linares, and Zurich.
Others of you may be aware of fonts available freely from such designers as Armando H. Marroquin and Eric Bentzen.
However, the history of characters for printing chess diagrams with metal type seems to be obscure.
I have found that the "Kingdom" design from Armando Marroquin resembles the chess diagram characters included in the 1923 ATF catalogue.
I have found some clues to the most common style of chess diagram pieces in (somewhat) older books: in addition to an 1897 ATF catalogue, an 1841 one from Henry Caslon also shows one cutting of this style; there seem to have been several slightly different versions that closely resembled one another. This is the style seen in Alpine Electronics' Hastings, and in Armando Marroquin's Leipzig as well.
However, the style that was nearly ubiquitous in American chess books of the 1960s, exemplified by Alpine Electronics' Linares, and also digitized as the DiagramTTUSCF font with ChessBase and the freeware Good Companion font by David Brown remains completely mysterious. This despite the fact that I've pretty much narrowed down the suspects to two: Linotype and Monotype.
I have learned that it was in use as early as 1942 - and that a variant, with an alternate shape for the Pawn to resemble that of the older style of chess diagram symbols, was not only used in the book "The Golden Treasury of Chess", but also by at least one newspaper.
Also, an account on the web of the publication of a book about the Fischer-Spassky match in 1972 notes that chess diagrams had to be set using metal type, although the rest of the book could be done by means of phototypesetting.
And yes, that last name is not a coincidence. If I remember correctly, he's the grandson of Paul Renner of Futura fame.
I think we can definitely can use some more chess love!
There is even a modern digital Chess font by a designer from Mexico (Condal, by Armando H. Marroquin) that shows the Knight as the usual horse's head, but which shows the Bishop as a knight's helmet from a suit of armor. I was not aware that the Bishop was called a Knight in Spanish, so I am unable to account for that particular choice.
Here is an example:
EDIT: In Spanish, the Knight is called the "Caballo", which is cognate with Cheval in French - it means "horse". That takes care of one. The Bishop is called the "Alfil". I thought that was just the name of an old chess piece that moved two squares diagonally, which was replaced by the Bishop.
But it's cognate to the Italian Alfiere, also the name of the Bishop in that language. And I looked up the meaning of that word - it means "military standard-bearer". So indeed that Chess font is appropriate to the meanings of the Spanish names for the pieces! One learns something new every day.
Here's an example of this style from an old Italian book on Chess:
And here's an example
from an old Dutch chess book, where the Rooks are also different in addition to the Bishops.
What we found in our research was that the book iconography of chess diagrams predated the Staunton pattern shapes by as much as 30 years. We concluded (quite reasonably we thought), That as these print icons were by this time (1849, date of the launch of the so-called Staunton pattern chess piece design) standard in chess books of the period, that Nat Cooke, conversant as he was with these print diagrams and shapes, from his editorship of the ILN and included chess column, simply adopted them for his 'new' design.
I will insert a bit of history here, in order to set the scene. During the early part of the 19th c in Britain many of the major chess clubs had their own chess set design associated with them. St George chess club, and Simpsons in the Strand, in London and the Edinburgh chess club in Scotland for example. Also on the continent of Europe a pattern called Regence, named after the chess club in Paris of the same name was very common. In earlier centuries there were many other designs of sets used.
The argument goes, that as chess and travel became more popular there was a need for a 'standard set' so that there would be no 'home' advantage to the club concerned. It should be noted here that Howard Staunton took his St George set to use in his match against St Amant in Paris in 1841.
I do not know if the Paris match can be truly regarded as the first world championship or if there really was a pent up demand for a standard set but the Staunton set has eventually become the world standard, used everywhere and the old sets from their original maker are much collected.
So, we established that the chess books of the day very likely informed the shape of these pieces but we could find no clue as to who designed these type icons.
I would very much like to have the publication dates of the chess books mentioned by John Savard above and any other thoughts by the readers of this column.
Thank you all.
Our researches are published online in chessspy.com
Crowns were available as individual ornaments from type founders for purposes other than chess; for instance Edmund Fry showed nine different designs in his 1828 specimen, the first of which was the coronation crown (below). None of them looked remotely like the chess Queen’s crown, which was more a tiara than a crown.
So, it appears that the 1818 Stamma used a typical type ornament crown for the King, as most monarchs were male, and a tiara-ish crown for the Queen, tiaras (coronets) being a female item.
Perhaps there were coronet-shaped crowns available from printers prior to the Staunton design, but I haven’t researched that.
For the Staunton design, Cook followed the basic King crown shape used in the Régence, Barleycorn and St George, but added a cross. Those styles all had Queens topped by a single large ball. Clearly, with Victoria on the throne, something more dignified and regal would be required. That is why, I believe, he may well have, as Alan suggests, taken inspiration from chess typography, in which King and Queen were harmoniously differentiated. However, Cook emphasized the cross on the King (which is of minor significance in type), with the Queen sporting a full coronet and her traditional ball reduced in size, contrasting in form to the cross.
In conclusion: Cook’s innovation was giving both royals a crown, and adding a cross for the King which he contrasted with a coronet for the Queen. This departed from the popular, established chess piece styles, yet was consistent with chess book typography.
another "American" edition (Chess Review) (see https://cdn.globalauctionplatform.com/76479bd3-a5fe-4de0-afe5-a768014377df/9aab8f36-6c0d-4719-88f5-a76900beefff/original.jpg ).
Both magazines had American Type Founders (ATF) chess types, ATF that from the 30's was in decline (ATF declared bankruptcy late in 1933), no longer published its magnificent type specimen with more than 1000 pages (the sample is from the 1903 type specimen, it was also in the 1923 one, but the following specimens were much more concise).
I am suspecting that "Linares" is the latest ATF chess design, in a way it is an evolution of the design shown.