A Quick History Of The Staunton Chess Set

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Whether or not you know how to play Chess, one of the world’s oldest games, it is highly likely the checkered board and famously recognizable playing pieces are nothing new to you. However, few know the story of The Staunton Chess Set and how it became the standard around the world.
Created with:

iPhone 6s Plus
Filmakr App
Olloclip Macro / Wide / Tele Lenses
Hollywood Microdolly
Beastgrip Pro
Sachtler Fluid Head Tripod
Fiilex 301 3-Light P360 LED Kit
iRig Pro
Sennheiser ME66 K6 shotgun microphone

How we shot A Quick History Of The Staunton Chess Set

Quickly overview: I shot with Filmakr 1080p at 50 mbps 120 fps slow-mo. The normal speed footage in the chess store is also 1080 but the outdoors sync footage at the beginning was 4k 50 mbps. The olloclip macro was key to shooting the chess pieces. I used one LED light sorta toppy (although I didn’t have a c-stand) to avoid long shadows but to blast the chess board with light; this let me use a fast custom shutter speed for crispness but also with a fairly low ISO so DOF was even more shallow. Also, setting the stop to the bright chessboard allowed the background of the store to drop off mostly to black decluttering the image, making this more of a controlled environment. I did a combination hand-held and tracking/panning with the fluid-head on the micro dolly.

Video Narration:

Whether or not you know how to play Chess, one of the world’s oldest games, it is highly likely the checkered board and famously recognizable playing pieces are nothing new to you. Here we have the now ubiquitous Staunton Chess Set.

During the late 18th century and early 19th century an increased interest in the game of chess, particularly in international play, brought about a renewed demand for a more universal model for chess pieces.

Conventional chess sets popular during this period included pieces that were tall, easily tipped over and cumbersome to play with. Their major disadvantage however was the similarity of pieces within a set. A player’s unfamiliarity with an opponent’s set could even alter the outcome of a game. It became all too clear there was great need of a chess set with pieces easy to use and universally recognized by chess players.

The solution was designed in England by Nathaniel Cooke, editor of The Illustrated London News, the newspaper where Howard Staunton — the chess player generally considered the best player in the world from 1843 to 1851 — wrote a regular chess column. Cooke asked Staunton to advertise his chess set. Staunton not only endorsed the product in his column on September 8th, 1849, but continued to promote it to an extraordinary degree including lambasting and deriding any other design of chessmen then proposed. This may have been the first time that a celebrated name was used to promote a commercial product.

Cooke’s design for “The Staunton” is largely considered to be a product of its time. London architects were designing prestigious buildings in the neoclassical style influenced by the culture of Greece and ancient Rome. The chessmen were symbols of “respectable” Victorian society: a distinguished bishop’s mitre, a queen’s coronet and king’s crown, a knight carved as a stallion’s head based on the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon recently housed in the British Museum. A castle streamlined into clean classical lines, projecting an aura of strength and security. The form of the pawns is largely considered to have been based on the Freemasons’ Square and Compasses. The choice however to place these universally recognizable symbols atop fairly conventional stems and bases is attributed to John Jaques, a master wood turner, who likely understood the need for a design which could also be produced at a reasonable cost by his company John Jaques of London, the purveyors of fine games. The Staunton’s affordability to the general public greatly helped to popularize the game of chess.

Most importantly, the pieces were compact, well balanced and weighted to provide a useful understandable playing set. The Staunton style soon became the standard for tournaments and is used by chess players of all levels around the world ever since.

The Illustrated London News Endorsement of The Staunton Chess Set

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Some of the gear used