Even though there are great varieties of chess pieces on the market nowadays, only one chess set design is used in official tournaments and that is the famous Staunton design. Named after the famous chess player Howard Staunton, this design is todays most used chess design all over the world. However, things have not been this way from the beginning of modern chess competitions.
In the 19th century there were more than one chess designs used by professional chess players. This included St. Georges Chess Set, French Regence Chess Set and Barleycorn Chess Set. Knowing all the different styles and individuating the pieces with high speed and precision was a rather difficult task. This resulted in confusions for many chess players, unaccustomed with other chess pieces than the ones they used in daily chess games. Furthermore, because of the similitude between pieces displayed by all these styles, spotting the pieces was an even more challenging fact for someone who has not played with that type of chess pieces on a regular basis.
This prompted the need of an elegant, yet simple style, that will not only enchant the eye, but will also make the recognition of each piece a less cumbersome action. This is how the first copy was designed and released on the market. The origins of the design are somehow obscured, as for long time it was thought that the one who has come up with the Staunton design was Nathaniel Cook. The story says that the sources of inspiration for Cooks work of art dated back to antique Greek and Rome. These were blended with the Victorian realty when the royal court and the church played great roles in the society. The result: a neoclassical chess set with infusions for British civilisation.
However, modern voices acclaim John Jacque as the main artisan of the Staunton design. It is claimed that Jacque has taken some of the most popular chess pieces and synthetized them into an elegant, simple, easy to make and low priced chess set. There is also a version claiming that the Staunton chess set is the result of the collaboration between the two.
The design of the Staunton chess pieces promotes the king as the highest piece on the table (due to its importance, probably) with heights varying from 3.5” to 4.5”. The King is carved with a crown and a cross sign on the top of it, the Queen is smaller, wearing a coronet and a small ball on the top, while the Knight has the shape of a horse head. The Rook looks like a tower with crenelated battlements, the Bishops are determined by a mitre, while the Pawns have only a ball on the top. Each one of the pieces has its base covered in felt (or even leather in most recent, luxury sets).
Staunton design is nowadays recognised for its beauty and functionality all over the world and it is the only chess set design approved in official chess tournaments. Thus, if you are still wondering what type of chess set should you purchase for your first chess experience, then order your Staunton pieces now. Most of all the other designs available are for exhibition purposes and experimented chess players.