A Letter to Bert (2/8)

A Letter to Bert (2/8)

6.      Historian-Author-Collectors

Herman Helms (1870-1963) The Dean of American chess so named in 1943 by the USCF was a chess journalist and editor with Hartwig Cassel of the American Chess Bulletin from its inception in 1904 until 1963.

David Lawson wrote a beautiful biography of Helms in the 60th volume of the Bulletin in 1963 and he was obviously a good friend of Helms and very sad at his passing. Lawson, never one to praise in excess wrote of the “illustrations, portraits, historical material and fine coverage of chess news, especially during the first 40 years of (The Bulletin)” and it truly was an eye-opener for me to read it for the first time in 1994 at the State Library of Victoria. Helms was a giant and as well as The Bulletin, he edited the Brooklyn Eagle chess column for 61 years and had other columns in the New York World, New York Post, New York Sun and the New York World Telegram ans Un. He also contributed chess news to the New York Times for over 50 years as well as cricket, soccer and minor sports.

He was a very strong player but after his marriage in 1898 he seldom entered serious competition and became a tourney organiser especially involved in promoting the tours of Alekhine, Capablanca, Lasker, Maroczy, Marshall and Reshevsky whilst in America. The Capablanca exhibition in New York in 1913 where Capa faced 200 opponents at 50 boards was arranged and directed by Helms before an audience of 2000.

He was a keen cricketer and in 1892 headed the bowling averages and was second in the batting. His best skill was fielding. He was captain of the Brooklyn team.

His associate Miss Catherine E Sullivan gave him boundless and untiring devotion with all his chess tasks as did the chess master Anthony Santasiere.

Who could forget that beautiful letter in which he invited Mrs Regina Fischer to bring the 7 year old Bobby to the Brooklyn Public Library in January 1951 for chess? As Frank Brady wrote in “Profile of a Prodigy” the letter “not only documents the interest in Bobby’s incipient career, but because it reveals so much of Helm’s personality: the catholicity and sweetness of his old-world courtesy, the unfailing attentiveness to any matter or expression of chess interest from any quarter at any time”. What a tribute and Helms was 81 at the time. This was a beautiful man in every sense of the word, who dedicated his life to chess administration.

It has been difficult to obtain information on his chess library. Clearly he had one though much historical information was probably in his head. Niemeijer mentions Helms in the description of the New York Public Library on page 65 of “Schaakbibliotheken” and it appears that Helms collection went there. This needs to be checked but it rings true of the man.

George Walker (1803-1879) Stockbroker, author and strong chessplayer, he was always trying to increase the popularity of chess.  His chess column in Bell’s Life in London from (1834-1873), his articles in Fraser’s and other magazines and his organisation in chess clubs, together with his many books on chess, created as Murray wrote “A wider enthusiasm for chess”. His father was an author and bookseller and later father and son became music publishers. On his father’s death, George, then aged 44 became a stockbroker. By 1850 though he had helped form the Westminster Chess Club and the St George’s Chess Club, his last chess work “Chess and Chess Players” (1850) saw him withdraw from active chess play.

All the time he had been acquiring a chess library; one fine purchase in 1833 being George Atwood’s (1745-1807) Manuscript, which Walker, unselfishly as always, published in 1835 as “Selection of Games at Chess actually played by Philidor and his Contemporaries”. His most important book was “Chess Studies”1780-1844 as it presented many of the games played in that era in one handy volume.

His library of 314 books with many MSS of his own compilation, was sold by Sotheby’s on 14th May 1874 and the majority were purchased by Rimington Wilson. A description of the sale and that of the American collector C.W.Whitman from the Westminster Papers 1st June 1874 p.20 follows:-

“Amongst the events of the month we must mention the sales of Mr. George Walker’s, and Mr Whitman’s Chess Works. What pangs these gentlemen suffered at parting with the works they loved so well, those only who are, or have been, book collectors can realise. The manuscripts of Mr. Walker were, in some instances, original and those sold freely. Other manuscripts, consisting of collections of problems corrected by Mr. Walker, were, we hope, bought as mementoes of one who had done so much for our pleasure; but the books sold for little or nothing. The collection was divided into 314 lots, and embraced copies of the works of most of the great masters, notably Ruy Lopez, Damiano, Salvio, Gianutio, Greco, Selenus, Severino, Lolli, Ponziani, Philidor, Lasa, Lewis, and many others, dating from 1534.

 On the 15th, Mr.Whitman’s sale, consisting of 473 lots, was carried on with much greater animation, and much better prices were realised throughout. As is usual at sales of this kind, several lots were sold for a small fraction of their worth, while others fteched far above their nominal value. Amongst the latter may be mentioned Taylor’s “Chess Brilliants”, which sold for 7s 6d, the price new being only 4s 6d; “Selkirk on Chess”, worth about 3s, sold for 8s, Zukertort’s “Handbook”, old edition, fetched 17s, the price of the new edition is 12s; another book of Zukertort’s collection of problems, for sale anywhere at 2s 6d, sold for 4s 6d; two copies of Lolli, both alike, one was sold for 5 pounds, the other for 10s; whilst Cozio, lot 109, very scarce, and worth about 40 pounds, sold for 5 pounds. We can only suggest to collectors in future to make known what they have for sale, and ask for an offer for the seller. The 4 volumes of the “American Chess Monthly” must be looked upon as a bargain at 5 and a half guineas, because of the great scarcity of complete sets. We are very sorry to see these collections dispersed, and we cannot but regret that no club was sufficiently rich or sufficiently enterprising to buy the principal works. We are sorry, also, that Mr Walker’s sale should have been so ill attended. The next day Herr Lowenthal was so delighted at what he thought high prices, that he has determined  to retire, and do nothing else but write chess for the rest of his life. The present generation need be under no immediate apprehension, as the works will be preserved for the benefit of posterity. Posterity gets all the good things.”

Lowenthal, a kind and gracious man died in July 1876 and his collection was sold on 8th November 1876. Did he fare any better or rather did his estate? Here is what the Westminster Papers wrote in its 1st December 1876 issue p.137:-

“The sale of the late Herr Lowenthal’s library appears to have attracted very little attention in either of the two worlds of chess or books. The attendance of purchasers was small, and many really valuable lots were knocked down at ridiculously low prices. For instance, seventeen volumes of the “ Chess Player”s Chronicle”, from 1841 to the last number of the last series in 1859, bound in cloth and leather, sold for 1 pound 18s., or very little over two shillings a volume, and eleven copies of the” Berliner Schachzeitung”, from 1860 to 1871, fell under the hammer for fourteen shillings. Copies of four editions of the German “Handbuch” produced together, half-a guinea, and cheapest of all, six scrapbooks containing the chess columns of “The Era”, “Illustrated News of the World”,”Family Friend” and “Family Herald”, sold for five guineas. Altogether, the collection, comprising nearly two hundred volumes, besides numerous odd pamphlets upon chess, produced only 52 pounds and sixpence. Such a poor result could hardly have been expected in these days when the very highest retail prices are cheerfully paid for chess-books that are either out of print or have become obselete, and it must be ascribed to the absence of all competition for the moment. The collection included all the most valuable periodical literature of chess, extending over the last thirty years, besides two scarce old masters Carrera (1617) and Greco (1766), so that Amateurs desirous of forming a chess library have missed a rare opportunity of gratifying their wish, in failing to put in an appearance at the sale”.

Sad reading and even in 1995 it continued. The Falk sale in Paris being a good one for buyers.

Keeble (Note by John Beasley) Cleveland holds a notebook (Cleveland reference W 789.02M R1k) listing all the chess books printed in Great Britain that were in Keeble’s library on 28 January 1911. Cleveland has supplied the BCPS Library with a copy of this, and with Cleveland’s permission I produced an annotated version to go with my 1997 British chess problem bibliography. I suspect that some of Kebble’s library may now also be in Cleveland.

(This addendum sent to me by John 16 March 2001-see page 27 for main article on Keeble)

Murray concluded his article on Walker (BCM 1906 p.194) with this final paragraph:-

“One of the pleasantest features about Walker-and his character seems to have been a very pleasant one throughout-was his kindness to other players less fortunately placed than himself. He did all he could for Labourdonnais in the last years of his life, and buried him at his own expense. Again and again we find appeals for subscriptions for the assistance of other players or their widows, and Walker’s name generally heads the list of subscribers. He was always ready to “ Send the hat around for others”. (This was in contrast to an earlier statement of Walkers:- “I fancy I might have reached the steps to the throne by giving away my business, and sending the hat round once a year”) “Two likenesses of him are accessible – a poor woodcut in Edge’s “Paul Morphy”, and a second in the Westminster Papers (December 1876) – an issue which contains an excellent life, of which I have made considerable use-which shows a particularly charming old gentlemen, the picture of good humour and geniality”.

Beautifully written by Murray. Walker’s definition of a chess club is worth repeating:-“The temple of the thirty two”. To walk in Kensal Green, the cemetery where La Bourdonnais and McDonnell are buried was a privilege for me. I imagined Walker at the services for his friends but especially at the great Frenchman’s, as he was in terrible circumstances at the end. Walker was a man.

William Lewis (1787-1870)  Again we are indebted to H.J.R.Murray for ‘digging out’ a reasonable ‘life’ of the great English chess player and author. He was helped in that task by Von der Lasa in DSZ Feb. 1873.

Lewis worked in a merchant’s office in London during his mid twenties and played chess at The London Chess Club room in Tom’s Coffee House in Cornhill. Here he became a pupil of Sarratt. He produced his first chess book in 1817 called “Oriental Chess’ a reproduction of Shastri’s 1814 Bombay work. Further books followed in 1818, 1819 (Greco translation) and in 1819 he worked as the player in Maelzel’s Automaton Chess Player because of his great skill and small bulk. He published fifty of the games in an 1820 volume. When Sarratt died in 1819, Lewis was the best player in England. He defeated Cochrane in various matches at odds up to 1826 when Cochrane left for India. In 1821 he republished Sarratt’s New Treatise on Chess’ and like Von der Lasa did for Bilguer, gave the credit to the deceased partner. In 1821 Lewis and Cochrane went to Paris and played Deschapelles and La Bourdonnais with Lewis given Pawn and move odds defeating the champion Deschapelles. In 1822 the Carrera translation was published by Lewis with ‘Elements on the Game of Chess’.

Lewis opened a chess club in St Martin’s Lane in 1823/4 and the great Alexander McDonnell joined as did George Walker. Lewis was McDonnell’s teacher. He also had an interest in pianoforte design. Both were unsuccessful and he lost most of his money. Friends secured for him the secretaryship of the Family Endowment Society at 12, Chatham Place, Blackfriars, London where he remained for many years and from which he retired on a comfortable pension. In 1827 he published a book on Rev. H. Bolton’s problems. In 1830 he withdrew from regular club practice but was still considered in 1836 after McDonnell’s tragic death, strong enough to challenge Deschapelles. This match was not played. During the 1830’s he published his most famous series of books called ‘Progressive Lessons on Chess’ and he also produced a fifty game book on the 1834 match between La Bourdonnais and McDonnell; these books assisted Bilguer and company to work out analysis for themselves and eventually led to the Handbuch.

There was some rivalry between Lewis and Walker as to how cheaply a chess book could be produced:- Lewis brought out ‘Chess for Beginners’ at 5/-, Walker followed with ‘Chess Made Easy’ in 1837 for 3/6 and Lewis came back with ‘Chess Board Companion’ at 2/6. Walker gave in at this point, for, “it was clear”, he said, “that if I carried on the war with ‘Chess for the Masses’, at a single shilling, my competitor would rejoin with ‘Chess for the Millions at sixpence”. All these books were popular and helped chess.

By 1853 he had given up playing though he still retained his library as the 1844 ‘Treatise on the Game of Chess’ appeared. He loved billiards, walking and the study of the New Testament in Greek. Murray writes:-“ He was very socially disposed, and of an equable disposition, and it is recorded of him that nothing that happened in a game ever made the slightest difference to the charmingness of his manners”.  He was stakeholder for the 1858 Morphy/Lowenthal Match and again met the American player at a banquet and chess exhibition at the St George’s Chess Club.

George Walker in Bell’s Life 2nd August 1863 gave a description of the sale of Lewis’ library:-“ An extraordinary opportunity just now presents itself of forming chess libraries at a cheap rate. The largest collection of works on chess ever presented at one time for sale can now be seen at Simpsons, 10, King William St. Strand. The collection consists of several hundred volumes (250) including the chess library of Mr. W. Lewis, the eminent writer on the game and numerous books which belonged to his predecessor Sarratt. Copies of authors known only by name to thousands, as Gustavus Selenus, Ruy Lopez, Damiano & c in their original shapes may now be proved to be existing realities. We had the pleasure of inspecting this copious store of chess writings last week, and recommend our friends to pay Mr. Simpson an early visit.”

Sadly by January 1864 he again wrote of “the very moderate prices” and the “gratis catalogue”. In his 22nd October 1864 column they were still “on sale”. An interesting period and perhaps the American Civil War was affecting the British economy. One would have suspected James Wilson Rimington Wilson (1822-1877) of missing a wonderful opportunity here. Perhaps he didn’t.

John Frederick Keeble (1855-1939) A solver, composer, player, tourney judge, author and chess historian. Also a life-long bachelor and non-smoker. A railway clerk, he completed 53 years service retiring in 1921.

His early life was oriented towards chess problems and he composed 140 problems, mostly two movers and self mates with a delight for the unusual problem. He won four first prizes for composition in England and America and was a tremendous solver. His chess play was of a high level and he was the 1884 champion of Norfolk when there were 52  contestants. His first victory in that tourney being 1877, but that was for shooting not chess!

Both problems and play led him to a love of the history of both sides of the art and after he retired from work, he became heavily involved in many research areas especially related to locating old graves of famous players (Philidor’s being one, which resulted in a vote of thanks from the French Chess Federation). He ensured that Lowenthal’s headstone was restored in the Hastings cemetery called Ore. Later he found the problemist H.J.C.Andrews’ grave in Ladywell Cemetery, Lewisham not far from J.H. Blackburne’s grave. Andrews grave number is 1894 plot D. Philidor’s grave is in St James Church graveyard Piccadilly. Another challenge that he partially solved was the location of Morphy’s chess set and board which were tracked down to the Count Gasquet in France. Today they are still lost. The magazines of the 1920’s and 30’s are sprinkled with Keeble’s quests and he solved most of them. BCM 1926 p.434 is a typical Keeble quest and his write-up of the event dealing with the Philidor find is rather good.

He published two books:-“The Caduceus” and “An English Bohemian” (1933). The first published in 1910 contains a series of self-mate problems from the Norwich Mercury Tournament of 1908/10. The second is a famous Christmas Series volume of problem great B.G.Laws. In the Foreword Alain White pays tribute to Keeble and calls him “:…almost the youngest of my correspondents”

Because of his activity and alertness. Keeble was 78 at the time. White also calls  “Roi Accule aux Angles” 1905, the first volume of the Christmas Series. I’m not sure where that leaves “Chess Lyrics” which in “Antiform” is listed as the first.

Keeble’s skill as a writer is praised in the obituary article in BCM 1939 p.153:-

“ He was a good writer, and a splendid and reliable correspondent, as many can testify. His letters were delightful in matter and expressed his kindly personality. His friends were legion all over the world. On his eightieth birthday he received a letter of greetings from America signed by many of the famous chess players of that country. With his splendid head, beetling eyebrows and keen glance, he looked a chess player. Perhaps the secret of his success was his good fortune in possessing good health, an unusually good memory, and his perseverance and meticulous attention to detail."

He contributed various chess papers to the Hastings Observer and the Falkirk Herald and chess columns in the Eastern Daily Press in 1884 and the Norwich Mercury from 1902 – 1912. In the latter paper he published a list of chess columns for the world commencing in the 15th May 1907 column to April 4th 1908.The obituary article writes of him as a “collector of chess books” and I have not been able to discover the number or quality. I would suspect the books are with the Norwich Chess Club or local library (But see pps.25 & 62 this book).  Keeble wrote some excellent articles in the Falkirk Herald on the pre and post Rimington Wilson sale as copied in the Chess Amateur 1928 pages 171, 207 and 240.

“OLD BOOKS :- The chief chess event this month is the sale, by Sotheby’s (London) on the 27th and 28th, of the Rimington Wilson Chess library. This famous library was formed by the late Mr J.W. Rimington Wilson (1822-1877) and has not been added to since his death in 1877. It has always been considered the best in Europe, but as far as is known, Mr.H.J.R.Murray is the only person who has had access to it. The library is rich in manuscripts, the plum of the collection being an autographed chess poem by Oliver Goldsmith – a translation of Vida’s “De Ludo Scaccorum”, which good judges think is worth £200. The books and manuscripts together number over 2,300. First editions of all the early chess books are included in it, and generally in more than one copy.

An item of interest to your readers is the first book connected with the name of a Scottish printer. It is described:-“Jordanus Nemorarius. Arithmetica, etc. In hoc opere contents. Arithmetica decem libris demonstrata. Musica libris demonstrata quottuor (by J.Fabrus Stapulensis). First edition, Gothic letter, 72 leaves, wooden diagram, including a chequered board set for Rythmomachy, folio. Printed by W.Hopyl and David Lauxius, Edinburgh, 22 July 1496.”

Rythomachy was commonly called in England the Philosopher’s Game, or battle of numbers, was played on a double chess board with 24 men a side, 8 circles, 8 triangles and 8 squares, the eighth square representing a king.

Another Scottish item is “The Buke of ye Chess” Frondes Caducae series. Auchinleck Press, 1818.” (And this may be why Keeble called his first book ‘The Caduceus”)

p.207:-“ A great surprise at the Rimington Wilson chess library sale was the high price paid for Oliver Goldsmith’s MS of his translation of Vida’s chess poem. After spirited bidding from three parties it was knocked down to Messrs Maggs for £5,600. This price breaks all records for a chess item, either as a book or manuscript. The poem consists of 34 pages, 6in x 7in., and has in all 679 lines. It commences:- “Armies of box that sportively engage,

                                           And mimick real battels in their rage.”

It was formerly in the possession of Bolton Corney, a well-known literary critic of the last century. Corney died in 1870, and the MS passed into the hands of F.S. Ellis, the New Bond Street bookseller, who sold it to the late Mr Rimington Wilson for 50 guineas, and for more that 50 years it has virtually been considered a lost manuscript. The poem was published in its entirety in Peter Cunningham’s edition of Goldsmith’s “Works” in 1855.

Another surprise was the price paid for Lucena’s book of chess problems published at Salamanca in 1497. The copy sold had 162 woodcuts of problems (should be 164). Only about 10 copies of this work are known to exist. It has usually sold somewhere in the neighbourhood of £100, but this copy, as did the Goldsmith MS., fell to Messrs Maggs for £500. Three German MSS of Cessolis sold in all for £64, but the first French edition of Cessolis, published at Toulouse in 1489, made £130, and a beautiful Italian edition, dated Florence 1493, fetched £200. There were several editions of F. de Columna, including a very fine copy of the Aldine edition, Venice 1499, which was secured by Quaritch for £430, which also got another dated 1546, for £70, and a third 1561 fetched  £60.

On the whole the foreign books sold well, but the English ones made much less than was expected. Two copies of James Rowbothum’s chess book of 1562, entitled “The pleasaunt and wittie playe of the Cheasts renewed”, were sold for £56 and £31 respectively, and a first edition of Arthur Saul, of which only two other copies are known (one in the British Museum and one in Bodleian) went for £115, and two other valuable works were bound up with it. This edition is dated 1614. Strange to say a copy of the second edition of this book, edited by Jo Barbier in 1640, made as much as £260 two years ago, and now two copies of this went for £9. There were other tragedies of low prices of which I will speak later on. By the way £32 was paid for the “Jordanus Nemorarius” – the first book associated with the name of a Scottish printer. The total amount realised by the sale of the chess books and manuscripts was £8,072.

Again Keeble’s knowledge of rare chess books is of interest. Quaritch bought a lot and perhaps his mark up on some items in the later catalogue can be noted from the prices quoted.

p.240:-“I promised to say something of the low prices for which lots were sold at the Rimington Wilson sale. The founder of the library took great pains, when opportunity offered, to secure the MSS and books collected by famous players and composers of his time. For instance, he bought George Walker’s library, which included not only rare books, but valuable manuscripts by the Rev. George Atwood and Sir. F. Madden. He also obtained the whole of Bone’s collection and some by Horatio Bolton. He got everything that belonged to the English player and writer, William Lewis, and the famous professional, Lowenthal. Further, he himself made a folio MS of the chess openings.

All the parties I have mentioned fared very badly at the sale, and their literary efforts in the cause of chess were sold for what looks like waste paper prices. English chess owes more to the Rev. George Atwood than it does to any other person. Mr. Murray’s “History of Chess” mentions that George Atwood (1746-1807) joined the London Chess Club in 1787. He was not a strong player, but he made up for this by the industry with which he took down the games played at the club from 1787-1800, including most of Philidor’s games, and almost everything we know of Philidor’s play we owe to him. He recorded the results in three handsome manuscript volumes, and these were knocked down at the sale for ten shillings. A transcript of the Fountaine MS and four others by Sir. F. Madden also fetched only ten shillings.

Bone was an industrious man and an indefatigable collector and recorder of chess problems. In all, the library had 144 MS volumes which he compiled! These were sold in three lots for £13. Horatio Bolton fared a little better. His three volumes fetched £2.

W. Lewis’s autograph MSS filled 33 volumes, and went for 14 shillings. Lowenthal did more than Lewis. He compiled 48 volumes, which were handsomely bound in half Russia, and only ten shillings was bid for the lot.

Perhaps the most pathetic case was an autograph MS of the chess openings arranged by Rimington Wilson himself. Seventeen large folio volumes of substantial thickness, bound in morocco, £1 the lot! It is to be hoped that some of these will eventually find a home in some permanent library in this country.

As a rule, chess magazines sold much better. “The Palamede” made £10, and a collection of the German “Schachzeitung” 10 guineas, but many modern books fetched poor prices.”

Bernard Quaritch the book dealers bought 1657 of the 2300+ items and sold them in 1929 at far better prices. Good articles by Keeble on the end of Britains greatest collection. Very sad for British chess.

Baruch Harold Wood (1909-1989) learned chess at school and continued through University where he got 1st Class Honours in Chemistry at Bangor and an MSc at Birmingham. His love of chess took him away from chemistry and he launched ‘CHESS’ the magazine in 1935. He kept the magazine going until 1987 when he sold out to Pergamon. 52 years is a great effort and few have equalled it. During the war he held a directorate of a chemical research laboratory in Lichfield but still continued to produce the magazine.

He was also chess correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and the Illustrated London News and published ‘Easy Guide to Chess’1942 through many revisions; Semmering-Baden 1937; London and Nottingham 1946; The 1937 Euwe/Alekhine match; The 1953 Candidates Tournament;The English version of Jerzy Gizycki’s “A History of Chess” 1972, revised 1977; and a fairly average chess problem book which I’ve still refused to buy a copy of ca 1970’s?

Like Helms and Purdy, he gave his life to chess and apart from other ‘behind the scenes’ activities he was a Life member of FIDE, an International Arbiter, organiser of 21 annual chess festivals at seaside venues, promoter of University chess, and founder of the Postal Chess Club and for many years President of the Postal Chess Federation. He was awarded the OBE in 1984.

He wrote an article in ILN which reveals somewhat of his library. This article was republished in CHESS January 1950 p.73:- “ More has been written about cricket, I believe, than about any other outdoor game. But more books have certainly been written about chess than about every other game put together. Caxton’s “Game and Playe of the Chesse” (about 1483) was one of the first books ever printed in English, and the stream has been in flood ever since. It is an aspect of chess which the layman can find almost frightening.

About ten years ago, I started to build up a chess library for reference purposes. From the first I rejected more books than I chose; for instance, though chess problems fascinated me in my youth, and I composed several, I felt I must draw the line somewhere; I possess a bare half-dozen books on problem Chess or Fairy Chess at most. Then, the motive of my collection was utility; as chess has progressed steadily, decade by decade, the weaknesses in old methods and openings being revealed and new resources evolved, the countless chess books dated earlier than 1900 were rejected almost en bloc, though not always without a wistful backward glance.

Language was not a great bar, as I can read French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Russian adequately well; but here again I shied away from Hebrew, Arabic and Chinese - it is such a blow to the dignity, on turning a page, to find from a picture or diagram that one has been perusing the wretched book upside down.

I do subscribe to the Istanboul ‘Turkiye Satrang’. But understand mighty little.

CHESS IN WORLD FICTION – An Oklahoma Professor of English is busy collecting fiction in which chess has a place in the plot. Starting from “Through the Looking Glass”, the library list takes in some scores of detective novels and, wandering through the whole range of world literature, such classics as Shakespeare’s “Tempest”. I left my Oklahoma friend alone in his task.

Another field which might interest a psychologist is the collection of books written by world-famous chess players on subjects outside chess, such as Philidor’s works on music, Staunton’s three-volume commentary on Shakespeare, or, in modern times, Gerald Abraham’s novels and political pamphlets on war guilt, etc. Sanity again decreed only one course – rejection.

Thus I set drastic limitations – yet within them my library has rapidly expanded to some 1,600 volumes, and continues to grow by at least 150 more yearly.

250 BOOKS TO CHOOSE FROM! On the French Defence alone, the opening 1. P-K4, P-K3, I can consult no fewer than five specialist works; by Mieses (Liepzig), Le Lionnais (Paris), Maroczy (Budapest), Czerniak (Buenos Aires) and Stadia (Milan), apart from detailed surveys in each of the 130-odd books on the chess openings as a whole, and more or less useful references in scores of general text-books.

Every month, well over a hundred different chess magazines are issued in various parts of the world; eight in England, about as many in Germany, five in the USA…one in New Zealand. Each goes into my library, bound, at the end of the year.

Of tournament books, I have some 400, though there are still many gaps to fill. These are books published after important tournaments, giving the scores of all the games played, usually with comments on the play and often with photographs of the contestants. Since the day hardly ever dawns when no such tournament is in progress somewhere, there is a constant flow of new additions to this section. It is the one I find myself most often consulting; the games, averaging perhaps eighty per book, provide a bottomless reservoir of study of every type of stratagem in opening, middle-game or ending.

Frightening? Or exhilarating? Make your choice!”

In the obituary in BCM 1989 p.210 is the following anecdote:- “ One of his last long tours was in 1967 when he drove Botvinnik around the UK. The world champion was duly impressed by the work load and wrote a very favourable account of the trip, revealing incidentally that Barry was still paying off the mortgage on his large house in Rectory Road, Sutton Coldfield where the car was parked on the forecourt as the garage was the reserve storage for a large library of chess books! His ability to quote chemical formula from memory also impressed Botvinnik”.

And there is a very fine photograph of Wood in his library (ca 1950’s I think) in the obituary article in Chess May 1989 p.15. His library was impressive and if we assume he had 1600 chess books in 1950 and that his library continued to grow at 150/year, it must have been well over 5000 volumes at the end.

He was a kind man to me and I bought my first rare book overseas in one of his CHESS auctions. Another time I remember sending him $100+ Australian for a set of Hoffers ‘Chess Monthly’. I later wrote wondering if he had meant US dollars which he had and I got a credit on further purchases. My set of the ‘Chess Amateur’ came from him.


6        Specialist Area Collectors  Whilst it is appreciated that every collector has preferred collecting areas, some collectors concentrate on one specialist area.

Philip Hamilton Williams (1873 -1922) English chess problemist and chess author. He conducted the Problem column in the Chess Amateur from the inception of the magazine in October 1906 until his death in September 1922. A marvellous editor, full of fun and witty writings, readers were treated to his trips around Britain on motorbike auditing various company accounts and meeting up with problem lovers. A fine musician he played on various great cathedral organs around the country. Ely, for one, was a delight for him. His book “Chess, Chatter and Chaff” 1909 from the publishing office of the Chess Amateur has some very professional photos of Ely and other scenes that he had taken in his travels. It is a beautiful little book. He was a very pleasant man, gregarious and a first class problemist with a dash of kriegspiel which he loved.  If he was as half as nice as his writings he was a special man. And  I think he might have been special.

His library was only 100 volumes but was completely problem oriented. Williams classed Mauvillon’s work as a problem book though I note it is in the endings category in The Hague catalogue. A month before he died Alain White sent him his original working copy of Loyd”s “Chess Strategy”. Williams could hardly have read it.

Robert Forbes Combe (1912 –1952)  British Chess champion 1946. His childhood was spent in China where his father was Consul General at Tsinan in Shantung. On a holiday in London when he was 16, he bought a little book called "The Chess Openings"”by I.Gunsberg, from which with the aid of a sixpenny book of chess laws, he taught himself the game. He played in the third class tournament at Margate the next year finishing fourth without knowing the e.p. rule for the whole tourney.

He completed his education at Aberdeen Grammar School and Aberdeen University where he qualified in law with a distinguished record. He was a brilliant pleader at the bar of the Sheriff’s Court and had a fine legal brain.

In W.A.Fairhurst’s opinion, Combe had the greatest chess brain of any British player between 1932 – 1952. He had a very quick sight of the board and was rarely in time trouble.

He never won the Scottish chess championship but as he had developed rheumatic fever at the age of 18 this may have affected his play. Certainly he never thought so and  in Chess October 1946 p.2 stated that “ I developed a sort of instinctive languidness and now I don’t think I could hurry or worry if I wanted to.”

In that famous game he lost to Hasenfuss in 4 moves it is worth stating that he had just played a 12 hour game prior to it. And prior to the 1946 British Championship he had NO CHESS PRACTICE AT ALL FOR THE PREVIOUS SIX YEARS.

He lived in Elgin in Scotland (east of Inverness) and was an “inveterate collector

Of tournament books, has probably as complete a collection as anybody in the country and habitually spends evenings in quiet deep study of the masters’ methods. He looks on Richter’s “Combinationem” as a fine book for pre-tournament study”.(Chess 1946)

Remarkable chess player, draughts player and collector too it would seem. Further knowledge on his tournament book collection is needed but this appears to be his special area.

Lubomir Kavalek (1943)  International grandmaster, chess journalist and coach. His most famous coaching role was with Nigel Short in 1990 when the British grandmaster teamed up with him prior to the Manila Interzonal. The book “The Inner Game” by Dominic Lawson details his relationship with Nigel Short during the World Title match in 1993, with Garry Kasparov. On page 83, Lawson describes Kavalek’s library :- “Three rooms seemed to be full of nothing but chess books, in English, German, Czech (of course) and Russian. Bound volumes of Soviet chess magazines going back to the early 1950’s lined one entire wall. I counted 103 books on one chess opening alone; it was the Sicilian Defence, Garri Kasparov’s life-long favourite. I asked Kavalek whether he knew of a bigger collection of chess books. “Oh, yes,” he replied. “Not far from here, actually. The Library of Congress.”  Lawson went on to describe ‘The Beast’, Kavalek’s computer chess database which as he wrote:-“..had become famed and feared throughout the world of grandmasterdom.”

Hazarding a guess at the number of volumes in Kavalek’s library is dangerous but assuming 20 books per foot of shelf and five shelves; with a wall 12 feet long there would be 1000 books per wall. Say 3 walls each room, must make the collection in the range of 9000 books – a most imposing library.

Clearly the collection contains openings and master games mainly if not solely. One then begins to wonder just how many collections there are in the world held by theorists and grandmasters.

Albert S Pinkus (1903 – 1984)  American master, big-game hunter, stockbroker and collector. Arnold Denker and Larry Parr wrote brilliantly about him in “The Bobby Fischer I Knew”. In a Foreword in that book Grandmaster Larry Evans wrote of Pinkus and his hobby of collecting chess books and on page 30 the authors wrote:-“ Al’s great joy and gentleman’s obsession was to remove the bindings from rare tournament books and rebind them with the most beautiful gilt covers to be found outside a medieval monastery. Trips to his home were a treat because we always got around to examining the books and opening them to play over some classic games. The last time I visited him, he had already bound hundreds of books which formed one of the finest libraries in the world. In today’s market this collection would be priceless, and I often wondered what happened to it.”

Dr. Niemeijer in “Schaakbibliotheken” 1948 when writing of the Harald Falk collection places A.S.Pinkus’ name in brackets behind Falk’s inferring that he got all of it. However this may not be completely correct. On the 8th June 1995 a chess book sale took place in Paris and it was billed as the “Bibliotheque de Monsieur X”. This was in fact Harald Falk. The collection sold contained few if any tournament books and consisted principally of antiquarian chess books. The general view is that Pinkus got the chess play books only.

H.J.M.(Bert) Corneth  (1956)  One of the new boys on the block. An Information Planner with Shell; his skills are in computing and mathematics. He started collecting in 1988 and has already passed 1000 items.

We met in Peter Parr’s chess shop in Sydney in December 1995 when the Corneth family were doing a tour of Australia’s capital cities.

Very systematic and has produced a catalogue of his collection with the following sub headings :- History and Bibliography; General Teaching Works; Openings; Middlegame; Game Positions and Combinations; Endgame and Endgame Studies; Problem Compositions; Biographies and Games of One Master; Collections of Biographies and Games; Matches; Tournaments; Periodical Publications; Societies and Jubilees; Psychology, Philosophy and Blindfold Chess; Essays, articles and Stories; Various Subjects. There is also an index of authors. The Catalogue has 18 pages and is easily updated off computer.

Bert (2/10/1999):-“..My antiquarian collection runs until 1960. One reason for that is because around that time the paperback era began. Books appeared at ever higher frequency, and little care was given to their solidity and appearance, reflected partially by a limp cover, in order to reduce cost. (The second reason is that 1960 is the start of my conscious life- I was born in 1956, so it is also psychological)”.


7.      General Collectors

Jean Mennerat – A very great French chess book collector. His collection is well over 10,000 items today. He has been to most of the great post war sales and has been collecting since WW2. The second hand bookstalls along the Seine were a favourite haunt and the Staunton 1851 Tourney book and all the Philidors (French editions) came his way from these sources. 1938 was a very good year. After the war when he was demobilised from FFL of de Gaulle he continued to buy chess books up until 1949 when his family and medical practice took priority. He took it up again in 1984/5 in retirement and now lives with his wife in the French Alps. Many rooms of their home are filled with chess books and he writes that his wife is “ wonderfully tolerant”.

Harald BalloA very great German collector and good friend of Jean Mennerat. His collection must be well into the thousands today. The author of Schachzettel in DSZ and a doctor by profession. He has a very promising chess playing son and his two youngest sons are also quite good. He has been collecting since about 1980 and has dealt with most of the dealers and attended some of the great auctions in past years. He advised the following in a recent letter:-“ In Germany, I think, my collection can, after the death of Gerd Meyer and the transfer of his collection to the public library of Kiel, as far as the pre 1850 Chess books are concerned at least compete with others in Germany.There is in the first instance Herr Meissenburg, he is strong in new books and goes for completeness even though there is an enormous amount of book production. Other collectors in Germany include in Berlin – Herr Fresen, Herr Bochum and Herr Petzold. In Lubeck is Herr Gromsch and in Hamburg Herr Mittelbach. In Tubingen is Herr Ellinger and Herr Hess in Frankfurt. In Regensburg there is Herr Wellenhofer. In Sweden there was Rolk Littorin and in South America Herr Caputto and Herr Soria. In England Michael Mark and in the USA Mr de Lucia.” (Letter 10/9/1995)

Another outstanding dealer/collector has to be Kurt Rattman (l906). An article called “The Bookman from Hamburg” by Dirkjan Ten Geuzendam ca 1988 from ‘Interview’. The article states that “…his second-hand chess bookshop is unmatched in the world.” Following is an extract by Herr Rattman on the second hand books and how he started in that area:-

“..This second-hand book business more or less marked the beginning of my chess book career and it is quite funny how it came about. Shortly after the war, when we still had the worthless Deutsche mark, a correspondent chess friend of mine asked me if I was willing to buy his chess library for a price of say, fifteen or twenty thousand Reichsmark, in other words the useless money. He must have been a wealthy man, but he had no money to pay his daily expenses. He showed me a long list, I think about ten pages, of wonderful books and said he intended to keep this library as long as he lived, but that after his death his son would send it to me. I said:-“All right, I trust you, here is the money”’ and I got the list. At home I looked through this list and found no Bilguer, no Berger, nothing of Euwe’s openings, no Znosko-Borovsky, and I wrote to him, “Dear friend, I am greatly astonished. You have all the volumes of the Deutsche Schachzeitung, of the Weiner Schachzeitung, of Kagan’s Neuste Schachnachrichten, of Deutsche Schachblatter, but nothing of Bilguer, Berger and so on.” And he replied, “Mr Rattman, from these books I cannot part even in thoughts, I want to keep them as my property.” Then I told him, “Well, they are your property as long as you live, but I want them too. What do you want for them in addition?” And he wanted another three thousand marks, which in those days was hardly enough to buy two or three pounds of butter. In 1949 I got the news of his death from his son and he asked me where to send the books. I gave him the address and the unpacking was delightful. Wonderful things. Some time later I happened to meet Dahne, the President of the German Chess Federation and I told him that I had a complete collection of the Deutsch Schachzeitung. He immediately bought it for five thousand marks. This was after the currency reform and this deal alone had earned me more money than the complete library had cost.

Now I had a large stock of second-hand books. In my first days as a chess book dealer there were hardly any new books, so I mainly depended on second-hand books. One of my best clients was Heinrich Wagner. He collected tournament books and when he died I got them all back. I had to sell them for his wife. It was a huge collection, almost every tournament book beginning from London 1851 to the very last dates. Even the very rare tournament book of the 1939 Olympiad in Buenos Aires was among Wagner’s books. I had sold it to him. In my entire forty-year-long business career I have sold this book only four times. The first one I got I sold to Wagner, one hundred marks. The second copy I sold to Dahne, two hundred marks. The third one I sold to an American customer, three hundred marks and the fourth one, which was the one I got back from Wagner, I sold to Enevoldsen for four hundred marks. He protested greatly as he thought the price too high, but after a few weeks he bought it anyway. Now a very fine reprint has been made and everyone can buy it. As far as I know the original edition had a run of only 139 copies. Only for the players and the captains. So, it really was a rarity when I got it for the first time, and if I hadn’t needed the money I would not have sold it. But in the beginning of my business I had books in order to sell them, not to keep them. A few years ago Robert Hubner visited me and bought quite a lot from the regular stock of second-hand books, and then a friend of his, Mr Jacoby said to me, “Rattman, you still have other books in your home. Why are you keeping them there, you’re an old man, you don’t need them anymore”. I thought this over and said to myself, “Well, Robert Hubner is one of my friends, he shall get whatever he likes.” I had a complete collection of Kagan. Still defended. Now it’s gone. Robert took most of it. And in those days I still had a complete collection of Weiner Schachzeitung. Robert took the first volumes out of this collection and the rest has been sold. When I started collecting for myself I hoped that when I became older I would have time to enjoy those books, but as far as I can see now I will never have the time. Now my son is doing the work together with his staff, but I am still supervising the chess activities. I proof read, select the manuscripts, and together with Ludek Pachman I edit the ‘Schacharchiv’. On top of that I must visit tournaments and meet my friends around the world. I will never have time to play over games from Vienna 1898 or such like tournaments”.

The full article contains reminiscences on the BHB Chess Clock which  Rattman made popular, as well as anecdotes from tournaments he visited and the publishing business that he set up but we continue with ‘Meeting the Masters’:-

“Flohr once visited my bookshop and called me the world champion of chessbook dealers. Hort, Keres, many grandmasters have visited me and everybody was stunned by the number of books I had. When I was in hospital in 1954, Golombek visited me and told me, “I badly need a certain chess book and I know I will find it in your shop”. He found it and said,”If I need an English book I have to come to Hamburg and buy it from a German”. I know practically all the leading chess players. I personally met and know Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Spassky. I can really say Spassky and I are friends. Fischer I met for the first time in Portoroz. In Fischer’s younger days an American called Southart, the publisher of the ‘Leaves of Chess’, quite a crazy magazine, was his sponsor and manager. He ordered Russian books from me and wrote me that they were intended for a young American chess player who, although very young, played very strongly. Then I read the first reports on Fischer and I knew who got the Russian books from me, although Southart never mentioned his name. In Portoroz I saw Fischer and said,”Hello, regards from Mr Southart”. “Mr Southart? How do you know him?” “I sent him Russian books.” “Oh, then you are the bookman from Hamburg”, and we shook hands and talked. In 1962, when he had just won the interzonal in Stockholm, Fisher visited me in Hamburg on my birthday, the thirteenth of March. For some reason or other I had not been in Stockholm. Fischer’s birthday is on the ninth of March. He phoned me and said that he wanted to see my bookshop. I went to fetch him at the hotel where he was staying, and drove to my shop. There were my guests and there were cakes on the table. We didn’t intend to work that day. And he asked me, “What’s wrong here?” I said, “It’s my birthday”. “Oh, then you are a Pisces, congratulations”. I said, “You are a Pisces too, Bobby, congratulations, I know you had your birthday four days ago”. “Oh, you knew?” “Sure, sure, everybody knows that”. And then he said, “Do you believe in astrology?” and when I said no, he continued, “Nor do I, but there must be something in it. Let’s talk about astrology”. Then I said, “No, Bobby, let’s talk about chess. You know more about chess than I do, of course, but about astrology neither of us know anything"” And we talked about chess. He stayed with me the whole day and even bought some books. The last deal I made with him was in 1970 in Palma de Mallorca, when he told me, “I want the books by Riemann and by Gottschall on Anderssen. (Cf. Biyiasas’ story some eight years ago that Fischer visited him and only wanted to analyse Anderssen games) I told him that he could get Gottschall’s book. “I have it in Hamburg, I’ll send it to you, just give me your address”. But he wanted it there and then and I phoned my office and had it sent. In Hamburg the price was eighty marks, so when the book arrived and Fischer asked what it cost I said “One hundred marks”. “Far too expensive”, he retorted, whereupon I simply took back the book. But that wasn’t his intention, and he asked me how I wanted the money. When I replied that he could pay in dollars, marks or pesetas, he started emptying his pockets and put a heap of pesetas on the table saying, “Take one hundred marks”. Then he said, “What about the Riemann book?” I said, “I don’t have it, but Bobby, if I ever get the Riemann book, you’ll have it”. That night my wife and I made the acquaintance of a young lady who introduced herself as the librarian of the Manhattan Chess Club. She told us that Bobby was delighted to have the Gottschall book and assured us that he would have paid twice or three times the amount to get it.

In 1975 or 1976 by a strange coincidence I got two Riemanns on the same day. I had no address of Bobby’s, so I wrote a letter to World Champion Bobby Fischer c/o American Chess Federation. He got the letter and I received a letter back, I think with a hotel address on it. “Dear Mr Rattman, Mr Fischer wants to thank you for the offer of the Riemann Anderssen book. However, he thinks that your price is too high. He thinks that seventy dollars would be a reasonable price. Sincerely yours, no name, but just two initials, secretary”. I checked with my son what price we had asked and he replied, “Our price was twenty marks lower”. Evidently Fischer had mixed up marks with dollars. So I sent him another letter saying that we thought seventy dollars was a reasonable price, too. We got a cheque of seventy dollars, signed by this secretary, who wanted immediate dispatch by airmail. And now I wanted something from Bobby. I wrote again and told him that airmail would cost six dollars extra, but if he sent me a personal cheque he would get the book immediately. He didn’t send a personal cheque. A personal cheque for six dollars I could have sold for a hundred. I knew this, but he evidently knew it too. So he imply sent an anonymous bank draft. He got the book and that was the last I heard of him”.