Collectors embrace 'The Game of War' at Bonhams' Chess auction
This is no ordinary board game, designed to train British army officers while war was on the horizon
An 18th century Russian mammoth ivory chess set was the top lot of the Chess, Playing Cards and Games auction that took place on January 17 at Bonhams, Knightsbridge.
The intricately carved set was highly sought after and eventually sold for £19,000, against a pre-sale estimate of £2,000-3,000. The village of Kholmogory in Russia is famous for the local craft of carving in bone, which has existed there for over four hundred years.
From Europe a very rare, 300 year old south German, ivory and ebony figural chess set sold for £16,500. Made around 1700, the King and Queen were dressed in 17th-18th century interpretations of mediaeval dress and the pawns were dressed in baggy breeches and flared bottomed coats.
Meanwhile, a Chinese, jade mah jong set made around 1920 that belonged to HM Queen Elisabeth of Greece sold for £9,000 against a pre-sale estimate of £1,200-1,600.
The silk-lined wooden case that held forty jade tiles with bone counters and four jade and gilt dice was sold with a letter from HSH Prince Marc of Hohenzollern-Roumanie explaining the provenance of the set, dated 1979.
Also among the highlights was "The Game of War", an intricate 600 piece game dating from 1890 sold for £4,800, easily surpassing its pre-sale estimate of £1,500-£2,000.
It was designed to train British army officers at a time of uncertainty in the years leading up to the outbreak of The First World War in 1914. No-one could predict exactly when, but it was common knowledge that war was coming.
As a result, the armies spent their summers at camp, in effect playing war-games, and training for the big European war that was on the horizon.
The game is played on a map drawn on a scale of six inches to the mile, and the troops are indicated by small slate blocks, coloured red for one force, and blue for another.
It is a later British version of "Kriegsspiel", a wargame originally invented by Lieutenant Georg von Reiswitz in the early 19th century for training officers in the Prussian army.
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