Chess Diagram Characters

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.


  • Let's not forget Cheq, designed by John Renner at Adobe.

    And yes, that last name is not a coincidence. If I remember correctly, he's the grandson of Paul Renner of Futura fame.
  • I was totally in the dark of the existence of these "types" until recently while, when you think about it, it is totally logical to make them. For me, till I noticed them, they were just "there" (perhaps made as cliche's which would be actually extremely inefficient). Ran into this example at the Lettergieterij Westzaan in the Netherlands.

    I think we can definitely can use some more chess love!

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    I see that the mold you have pictured must be a very old example, since the black pieces are on the bottom of the diagram. While having black at the top is an almost universal convention, even in the late 19th Century there were exceptions, for example in James Mason's The Art of Chess, at which I was just looking today.
  • I have a memory, as a child, of seeing a French chess diagram in which the bishop was represented not by a mitre but by the head of a fool wearing a cap and bells. I have not been able to find any pictures or a font. Have I invented my memory? If not, is there such a font available? My apologies if I am off-topic.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    edited October 2017
    Oh, yes, this is quite common in older French chess books. Such books are represented on the Internet Archive, and in Google Books, among other places. That's because the French name for the Bishop is the "Fool". The Russian name for the Bishop is the "Elephant"; chess diagrams with it shown as such are less common in Russia, but they are sometimes found in books on chess for children, for example.

    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.
  • Contemporary typefaces with well-designed chess symbols include Tabac by Suitcase (“The figures are precisely stylised using a combination of traditional Czech club and Staunton shapes. When turning on contextual alternatives, normal white spaces are automatically replaced with chess square spaces, making chess typesetting a breeze.”) and Typotheque’s Greta.

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    Tabac is interesting; the symbols are designed so that while they remain representations of the top of a chess piece, as is the convention for chess diagrams, the bases are rounded so as to suggest a picture of a (solid, three-dimensional) playing piece.
  • It is true that in addition to designing the Staunton chess set, Nathaniel Cook also wrote a book on chess openings, although it just had charts and no diagrams.

    A quick perusal of some old chess books found an 1819 translation of Philidor's Analyse des Echecs which had crowned symbols for the King and Queen. However, the Queen looked more like the King of today than the Queen in chess diagrams; the King was distinguished by having a diagonal sword in front of the piece.

    Since representing the King and Queen by crowns as symbols is a very natural idea, it may well be difficult to trace this back to its origin.
  • Looking some more, I found an 1818 translation of Stamma by William Lewis, published by W. H. Reid, which used what are essentially the modern symbols for the chess pieces, except that the two players' pieces use the same types, differentiated by one set being printed in red ink.
  • Here is a diagram from that 1818 edition of Stamma which shows all the different chess pieces. I've tried to enhance the image as much as I could to make it more legible.

  • I have now looked at your site.

    I think I found the essay in which the researches in question are contained. I see you had found an example of a Queen with a coronet in an 1820 chess diagram, so I've actually pushed this back by two years.

    But I also saw something very interesting in your work. The 1828 chess set designed for the Simpsons... like the Staunton set, used a coronet for the Queen. Even if it wasn't quite so distinctive as in the Staunton set.

    I've seen claims that the Staunton set wasn't really all that original, based on the Northern Upright pattern. I disagree with that assessment, as the Northern Upright pattern, although plainer than the St. George pattern, distinguishes between the different pieces in exactly the same way. But the Simpsons set does establish that key elements of the Staunton pattern did exist in previous chess sets - also by Jacques.

    Unlike your 1820 example, though, my 1818 one doesn't anticipate the Staunton pawn.

    Also, I made a mistake above; William Cook, not Nathaniel Cook, wrote the book on Chess openings I was thinking of.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    edited September 2018
    Ah, you did find the 1818 book; "Chess Play Icons and the Sraunton Chess Set" is where these researches are.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    edited September 2018
    In fact, the diagrams from the 1819 book "Chess Rendered Familiar", an edition of Philidor's Analyse d'echecs with diagrams added after every move,
    are an example of what likely happened. Since the Queen as a piece, and, for that matter, the Bishop as a piece, in many sets of the time, weren't terribly distinct, real-world objects associated with what the pieces were named for were used as the basis instead.

    Of course, the Bishop's mitre had been used as the basis for Chess Bishops before the Staunton set.

    But if using the heads of a King and a Queen was a reasonable way to represent the King and the Queen, then so would using their crowns be a reasonable, and more schematic, way to do so.

    Elaborate chess sets with carved figures, of course, long predated the Staunton set. Whether the modern ANRI chess set, that was licensed by E. S. Lowe for their Renaissance chess set, or the Isle of Lewis chess men, representational chess figures had long been a part of chess wherever people could afford them and religious scruples did not interfere.

    So the designers of the Staunton chess set, even if they drew some inspiration from chess diagrams, probably did not feel themselves to be copying from the chess diagrams, but merely following an old tradition of copying elements from nature, or real life, as design elements of chess pieces.
  • And your example of the diagrams by the Edinburgh Chess Club also illustrate the use of heads in the diagrams.
  • If one goes to the House of Staunton website to see a contemporary set made according to the Grand Cigar Divan of Simpson's on the Strand pattern, claimed to be accurate to the smallest details...

    the open crown on the Queen is sufficiently prominent that I think that in a modern rated game, such a set would pass for "Staunton" without comment. So the essentials of the Staunton set do date from 1828 in chess sets.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,059
    edited September 2018
    The typographic chess King’s crown is a representation of the crown(s) used for crowning British monarchs, from at least the 17th century—notable for its arches and maltese cross.

    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. 

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    Incidentally, here is an image from a scan of a chess diagram in an old book using the classic font I've been looking for.

    This image clearly shows the diamond shapes in the white pieces - it's harder to find a good image for the black pieces, but I believe the corresponding white areas are also diamonds, and not ovals. A font used in Chessmaster software did have diamonds in that area, while the Good Companion freeware font has ovals.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    edited April 2020
    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.

    Due to the current unfortunate circumstances, the USCF has placed its digital archives of Chess Life, Chess Life & Review, and Chess Review online with free availability. Thus I have been able to find out that the new style of chess diagram characters made its first appearance (with the older-style Pawn) in the April, 1942 issue of Chess Review.

    However, there was no announcement about the new style of diagram giving further information about where it came from.

    This was with the older style of the Pawn. The newer style of the Pawn made its first appearance in the June-July 1946 issue of Chess Review.
  • I have seen the "Linares" chess font (its printed version) in at least one previous book: Chess in Bedfordshire (Dickens, F & White, G.L.), Whitehead & Miller (Leeds (UK) 1933).

  • The "evolution" of the previous diagrams used in Chess Life can be this:

    The last one is is a chess font created by the deceased Steve Smith of Alpine El. Perhaps the best chess font designs.

  • In there is a chess typography blog

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    Thanks to everyone for the interesting links.
    Inititial searches for Chess in Bedfordshire turned up a domain for McCready and Chess which had been parked, but I found the domain it had been moved to:
    has a diagram in the Chess font I'm looking for information about, which might be from the book Chess in Bedfordshire or perhaps from something even earlier.
    As I've noted, it seems to me to be quite amazing that a set of Chess diagram characters could have been almost ubiquitous for a while, with no information surviving about where it came from.

  • This diagram is the most popular in the USA (for my liking it is the clearest and cleanest of all those used by current publishers, which mostly come from ChessBase, ChessAssistant or New In Chess) surely you have to look for its origin in England by the hand of Whitehead & Miller (looking at Richard & Miller's 1921 type specimen, you will find other types of chess, but not this one). There are some previous books from this publisher, but I do not have them. Rarely in the archives of the English Typographical society have files of later types of this foundry, but on the internet I have not seen anything.

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    In searching for more information, I came across this site:
    but while it is indeed true that Miller & Richards seems to have done a better job - and, therefore, put more effort in - their chess diagram characters than other typefounders at that time, that still is hardly proof that a very good and popular design for chess diagram characters that came along decades later is also by them.
    Upstarts come along, and companies that once led a field move on to other priorities or fall by the wayside.

  • I believe that the first book that the chess font "Linares" appeared is "Book of the Folkestone 1933 International Chess Team Tournament" (although it would be necessary to continue investigating), there is an "English" edition (Whitehead & Miller, the editor of the famous British Chess Magazine) (see ) and
    another "American" edition (Chess Review) (see ).
    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.
    Of course the design of "Linares" I have not seen in any type specimen , with which everything is a theory.
    Possibly the only way to investigate it would be to see it in ATF-Museum at Columbia Un. and Chicago newberry

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,067
    edited February 2021
    Given that this style of chess diagram appeared in 1933 in two British chess books, Chess in Bedfordshire and the book of the Folkestone tournament, I would be more inclined to suspect a British company rather than an American one. But while I have to admit that Miller and Richards is a possibility, for the same reason that Ludlow is a possibility - even if a book is set by Linotype or Monotype, some parts might be set by another means if necessary - I'll have to admit that, in the absence of any clear evidence, my own opinion would be that the most likely source, given the ubiquity of the design (despite its merit, which could be claimed to be sufficient reason for the same) would be Monotype.
    And so, I tried another search, and this time I found this:
    While their photo of "Chess type to set any position" is too small to determine anything from, it's also given in their Borders leaflet, of which a PDF is available on the site.
    This isn't the Linares, though, but it may be a closer match for the Hastings.

  • Indeed, I have seen the Taniwha specimen downloaded and it is not the Linares font, I have searched the Ludlow and Monotype type specimen and I have not found chess. I used to say ATF because Whitehead & Miller (and Chess Review) used ATF chess diagrams and it would be a logical evolution, with the smelting activity halting since 1933, it is logical that nothing would appear in their concise type specimens from of that date.

  • I will make a Post to a group of chess book collectors to see if they know a pre-1933 book with these diagrams .
  • They provided me with a BCM January 1933 page and the Linares font already appears here.  Also a page from  1932, these fonts are from the Caslon foundry (later Stephenson & Blake) with the Rook and Queen of another type (the rooks are similar to German types with the rooks without bricks, but I have not seen the Queen except in BCM); I already knew it from the 1927 magazine. But the "Linares" diagram does not appear in any Type specimen, so its origin remain mysterious, perhaps it was an exclusive creation of the foundry H.W. Caslon & Sons for BCM. (or maybe a new unknown foundry that supplied BCM with new chess fonts )

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