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Decorative Chess Sets – Traditional and Theme

decorative chess pieces

Decorative Chess Sets

One of the great things about chess is how they fit in to many different categories. Is it a classic board game? Absolutely. But often chess is also a work of art. While some people might want a painting on their wall, others enjoy the beauty of a decorative chess set instead. I’ve noticed a sizable percentage of folks who come in to the store do not play chess at all, and instead just enjoy the museum like experience at looking at all these unique and unusual chessmen in one place. Indeed, you may be surprised to learn that many people who own chess sets do not actually play chess at all.

Decorative chessmen come in all shapes, sizes, and materials but can be put in to two broad categories: Traditional Staunton style chess pieces and thematic style chess pieces.

traditional decorative chessmen

Traditional Decorative Chess Sets

While it is true that traditional chess pieces are preferred for play, there are a number of this style that are intended more as a decorative item. Many wooden chess sets are hand carved with elaborate detailing. It is amazing that there are still new unique Staunton chessmen designs coming out each year. Further, the use of many rare and exotic hardwoods bring another layer of complexity to wooden chess piece set designs. The detail and care of handmade chess pieces make a nice wooden chess set often similar to 32 small sculptures!

While these chess pieces can be played with, the fine detail and often small bits (such as an ear, or the sharp edge of a crown) can be fragile, so it is more frequent you would find these sets as an accent to a room that is only played with infrequently. After all, many of these chess items become heirlooms for generations to come!

While wood is probably the most popular form of traditional decorative chessmen, there are other popular styles. Marble, Onyx, Alabaster and other stone are very popular materials for chess, but they are also highly fragile. Again, these are best left out on display!

theme decorative chess piece sets

Thematic Decorative Chess Sets

Of course, the other main category would be theme chess pieces. These figurine style pieces have been around for as long as chess. Since the establishment of Staunton, they are often more used solely as decoration or conversation pieces and cover virtually any theme or style you can imagine.

While there are chess figurines based on armed conflicts like the civil war, revolutionary war, or world war II, there have been a huge number of other styles as well, from sea birds and railroad cars to cinderella or sumo wrestlers! Beyond that, I’ve seen a number of cool chess sets made with a variety of unique materials such as salt and pepper shakers, wine glasses, auto parts, plumbing parts, and even bullets!

The main thing to realize is that these chess pieces are not toys. They are not really intended for children because not only can they be expensive, they can also be quite fragile. There are some decorative chess piece sets for children – the chess version of Super Mario Bros. is popular now, but we’ve also had Disney, Peanuts, and Shrek, among others – but the best bet is to stick with the traditional wood folding chess sets or tournament chess combination sets. Save the decorative chess piece set for when they appreciate the artistic element of chess as much as the game itself!


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