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Chess Sets Made in America

As we approach the holiday season, I thought it was worthwhile commenting on some of the questions we often receive here at the chess store. I think it can provide some interesting insight in to the chess industry – after all, an informed consumer is a good consumer!

Today’s question:
Do you have any chess sets from the United States? / What chess sets are made in America?

I’m going to follow up this post with another with all the different countries we’ve been involved with in the chess world as far as manufacturers – it’s a lot! Because there are so many people looking specifically for US made chess goods, I thought I’d first try to explain a little bit of the history of it, and what options are still available.  One of the longest lived domestic traditional board game manufacturers, Drueke was the place to go for most of the twentieth century. They opened in 1914 as a family owned business, and eventually were purchased by the game manufacturer Carrom in the 90s.

Drueke still has, in my opinion, some of the greatest chess boards ever manufactured. The main Drueke board had Walnut and Aspen squares and was completely solid – if you flipped the board over, you’d still see the blocks of wood. No veneer or inlay here! These boards were quite popular and used for many major domestic and international chess tournaments over the years – notably it was a Drueke board used for the Kasparov v. Deep Blue match. They also made a fantastic chess table for a time, using the same production quality and methods, and it is now a treasure to find one. Drueke also had rosewood Staunton chess pieces, storage boxes, and more – but those were imported. It was the chess boards that were made right here in the states.

Classic Drueke Chess Board

Drueke Tournament Chess Board from the 1986 New York Chess Open

Unfortunately, the wood for Drueke chess boards was always sourced from the same person, who ultimately retired. At that point the Drueke chess board lines (as well as several other Drueke products) were retired. This was back in the late 2000s. Now out of print, these boards are increasingly difficult to find. We actually have some Drueke boards still – specifically the ones used in the 1986 New York Open Chess Tournament (as well as the Drueke board used by Kasparov against Deep Thought in 1989). Many different grandmasters have had the opportunity to play on these boards – but even still, these are boards from a past tournament and not new from the manufacturer. I’ve yet to find any sort of supply of new in box Drueke boards. You can take a look at the classic Drueke board on our website, here: Drueke Tournament Chess Board from the 1986 NY Chess Open

The fact is, Chess set manufacturers in the US is a difficult proposition. It’s more expensive here and I find most American made chess sets more in the ‘art’ classification than a board suitable for most homes. Most price casual gamers and even collectors right out, especially when compared with high quality alternatives from Europe and Southeast Asia.

So where does this leave us if you’re looking for an American Made chess set?As far as I know, there are no mass produced chess pieces or chess boards available in the United States at all, and as I mentioned before many of the chess boards available are extremely expensive, suited more for an elite collector or even a museum or art gallery piece. However, we have come across a few exceptions and examples of items still available here in the US:

One item I’d like to point out is an awesome granite chess board with a cherry frame that is manufactured by a monument manufacturer – Norman Rock Artistry – located in Ohio. Interestingly, the company actually specializes in monuments such as the ones you might find in a graveyard. The owners were interested in chess, so used their granite etcher to make these fantastic high quality boards.

Granite Chess Board with Cherry Frame

American Made Granite Chess Board with Cherrywood Frame

Black Granite Chess Board with Cherry Frame

A second US made item that is pretty fantastic are the “Straight Up Chess” boards. These boards actually hang on your wall like a picture frame, and come in a number of wood options and frame designs. Suitable for most 3” chess pieces, it is completely playable with shelves for the pieces to go. It even has a little “last move” indicator, so you can play a move whenever you walk by. Certainly not the most traditional chess board option, but a very unique and interesting one, especially when you do not have the table space for a large chess set.

Straight Up Chess Board with Contemporary Frame

Straight Up Chess Board – Black and Maple with Contemporary Frame

Straight Up Chess Board – Black Maple
Straight Up Chess Board – Walnut Maple
Straight Up Chess Board – Cherry Maple

As you can see, although these items are great, they are still fairly expensive. Most recently we came across a great manufacturer up in Vermont called Maple Landmark. They use local materials and are environmentally sensitive – and are still able to make affordable products. Right now they have a small chess board, a checker set, and a pretty unique instructional chess set. Here’s hoping there will be more in the future.

Instructional Chess Set

Instructional Chess Set by Maple Landmark – Made in the USA

Instructional Chess Set from Maple Landmark

The instructional chess set is worth noting because I’m often asked about what would be a good item for a beginner or young person. I’ll talk in detail about this in a future post, but take a look. The chess pieces are carved in to blocks, so there are no sharp edges. The best part? If you look beneath each piece, there is a little map of how that chess piece moves on the base. It makes it easy to learn and is also kid and family friendly!

I think that is more than enough for now. Next time, I’ll talk more broadly about where in the world chess sets are manufactured and what you might expect from each region.

Quentin Turner

6 comments to Chess Sets Made in America

  • Jeff Davis

    Wow, I was just looking around to see what a Drueke board was going for and was shocked that I couldn’t find any. I picked up a tournament sized board about 10 years ago for about $100 and I’m feeling pretty fortunate about that at the moment! I can’t believe he retired without passing it down to someone. They are great boards!

  • Dan

    The original boards were walnut and maple, not aspen. Carrom started using aspen when the company was sold. Drueke’s grandson (Bill) is manufacturing them again with the walnut in limited quantities available on ebay. Get one while you can folks! I have 2 (2-1/4″ square) original ones. Great boards but the Drueke boards are pretty much used in homes and not public tournaments. They are valuable! I’ll probably give up one but not the other in my lifetime.

  • Duncan Pohl

    I, too, was going to make mention of Bill Drueke still making handmade boards in his own private home workshop but I see someone else has beat me to it. This may not be the place to say it, and if you find it particularly out of line, you have my permission to remove this post, but I believe the best way to purchase a USA made chess set is to buy a vintage one on such places as ebay. You have to be careful because the same thing was true then as it is now – a lot of the sets were imported and sold by American-based companies. But very nicely plastic chess sets (most wood sets sold by any vintage company were usually imported) were made in the US by Drueke, Gallant Knight – at least the company’s original sets, not the later ‘generic-designed’ sets which were imported, as well as plastic sets from Lowe, Classic Games and Pleasantime/Pacific Games, although these companies also threw in a few imported sets. At the risk of sounding like I’m throwing in a plug – which perhaps I am, you can find more information on these sets in my book ‘Chess Sets of the United States. Ready for Some Chess Tenite?’ [tenite was a common type of plastic used by the aforementioned companies in making their chess sets]. The book is available through Amazon.

    • No Problem at all!

      We also recommend people to go to eBay fairly often. It’s a great tool for both buying and selling vintage items as we really only have the new stuff. We actually do carry Bill Drueke’s boards on our site, but truthfully they are much more expensive than on ebay. It’s a really good price on there – assume it’s wholesale :-)

      It’s definitely hard to find pieces made in the US. I’ve actually started a section on the website for “Made in America” items. We just found some pretty awesome board from some Mennonite’s with a cool butcher block style, and a bunch of other stuff in a variety of price ranges. We’re always looking!

  • Duncan Pohl

    btw, Bill Drueke III also builds chess tables.

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