A Letter to Bert (6/8)

A Letter to Bert (6/8)

1984 –An early letter from Michael MR revealed that he had purchased the 1597 Gianutio. He described it as “a beautiful and truly rare book”. Fred had offered one to me some years earlier but we went on holidays instead. I had noted a copy for sale in 1975 for $500 (Dale’s EXEN) but that 6 years later it was for sale in List 17 of Fred’s for $1250 and sold on 18/2/1982.

Fred was selling new books a fair bit of the time now and he included a mini photo of himself finishing a 6.2 mile cross country race in what he thought was the mediocre time of 51 minutes!

Chess Notes stated that Ken Smith of Dallas had the biggest chess library in the world at 20,000 chess books. And Dale thought there were 1200 serious collectors in the world. Both interesting facts.

Ken Fraser advised that the library had got one copy of Brian Tomson’s “Fifty Chess Problems” issued in December 1983 by Brian as a gift. There were only 7 copies. Brian distributed them as follows:-one for himself, Rurik Bergmann, Bob Shearer, Aram Sendjirdjian, Ken Fraser of Melbourne Library, BCPS and myself. As at 1999 I still have my copy and I’m sure Bob,Aram, the MVA and BCPS would have theirs. I saw Brian’s copy in the Rare Books section of Newcastle University in August 1997 but Rurik’s copy was destroyed. His library was taken to a garbage dump. I have sent xerox copies to JvM and Nigel Nettheim so there are 8 copies around.

I bid for xerox copies of old chess columns in various newspapers from Dale. This is a useful way for amateur chess historians to get good material cheaply. Dale also advised that his own collection by March 1984 was up 30% on the 1977 figures quoted earlier in these pages. He also wrote:-“..Actually, I don’t think chess book prices are rising these days. The Hyde I had is much better than any I have seen offered for at least five years (often they are not complete). Buyers of the heavy items are few and far between in the US and the dollar’s strength makes it tough for everyone else. However, I have always found that these things go in cycles, and since the number of really fine early items only diminishes things work out alright if one is not caught in a bind where he needs money…”

He was right about the strength of the dollar. Today (1999) the Australian dollar is worth 64 US cents or 0.64. It is worth 39 English P. Back in 1984 it was worth 63P. I told Robert McWilliam of BCPS that my big buying days were over but that the disease was terminal with remissive periods. These periods of remission are getting longer for me as at 1999.

About mid year Barrie Ellen sold me two more volumes of Westminster Papers for £54. I was now only missing issue No 130 of Volume 11.

And a brief note from Dale advised that he had visited Lothar Schmid’s library and enjoyed the visit due to Lothar Schmid’s real passion and knowledge. He considered it the most fabulous private collection of chess books and ephemera anywhere. In many ways more interesting than the Royal Dutch Library or the White Collection in Cleveland. His room of duplicates would be the envy of every collector anywhere. He had four Gianutios!

That was astounding. Dr N responded that Lothar Schmid’s collection was:-“ the biggest private collection in the world, but I’m wondering what is the use of having four copies of the Gianutio book?”.

I certainly wondered about it – but not for long – after all I’d made the right decision not to buy the Gianutio a year or so back at $1250. It was clear that Lothar Schmid was ‘cornering’ the market for future resale in a few years time. Good luck to him. Dale didn’t agree with my view and thought the $1250 a “good buy”. He thought the duplicates would be used for exchange and perhaps he is right. Dale was very impressed with the qualities of the rare books that were in the Schmid collection. Other libraries have ‘copies’. He made the point proved sound some years later that :-“For the time being the Royal Dutch Library has two knowledgeable fellows doing the work, but that could always change on short notice”. A prophetic comment.

John Rather sent me Catalogue 1984 – 1 after sending me 1983 – 1 to which I did not respond. This one contained some early BCM years and I was lucky. As for the Catalogue, I considered it the most remarkable I had ever seen including the famous EXEN of 1975. I’d never seen such rare works for sale. Here was one:-No.4 G Ducchi “Il Giuoco De Gli Scacchi; ridotto in poema erioco”. 1607 $150. And I noticed that the Twiss I’d bought in the mid 70’s for $185 was now $225. Yes, Mr Rather priced fairly. It was a pity I was now out of the market but No 15 interested me as it was the 1561 Alcala Lopez for $6000. I took a punt and wrote Mr Rather that I suspected this was the Gates copy and he replied that it was and that it would probably end up in Australia!. That could only be the State Library of Victoria. So Fred didn’t get the $10,000 wanted. I told John Rather that my buying of past years was gone forever and that was a pity as my friendship was just starting.

1985 – One of the highlights of this year was the arrival of  “Caxton to Computers” the booklet put out to celebrate the birth year of Magnus Victor Anderson (1884). It was interesting to read of MVA’s view that private collectors should ultimately hand over their collection for public use. He was Australia’s first chess philanthropist. It was satisfying to me to note that yet another average chess player had gathered such a collection. J G White was a strongish player. Dr N was probably likewise but all were not top rank players. They loved collecting for the mental enjoyment.

Dr N responded with the comment that $6000 for the Ruy Lopez was not a bargain!:-“ I’m glad I bought the rarities of my chess library 50 years ago…” He

added:- “Although nearing 83 years of age I’m still collecting and added to the L/N (last year) about 300 new acquisitions. But it is no longer possible to buy all outcoming chess literature – one must make choice”. I replied asking him to update his 1948 work and Scaecvaria 1963 and to give the world more of his chess book experiences over the years. He replied :-“ There are far too few lovers of chess literature to make it an attractive matter for me to write a new book on Schaakbibliotheken, issued in 1948. It would be a costly affair, as an edition of say 200 copies would cost a lot of money. I have no idea how many new books on chess appear each year, the L/N picks up a great deal of them, as the library does not rely on the ± 300 items I’m giving each year, but has also its own budget. Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that its amount of works on chess and draughts/checkers has passed 26,000 items. When I am well informed Cleveland P L possesses 24,000 items”.

Robert Hughes, the Australian art historian had a series of articles called “Money & Art” in a Sydney paper in which he tried to come to grips with art as an investment. He analysed the value of money in the 18th and 19th centuries and worked out a multiplying factor to check prices today. He selected 100 as that factor after noting a British art historian thought 40/60 was an equivalent multiplier factor for 18th century work to the present day. Hughes quoted many art works selling at many more times that 100 multiplier factor and he put it down to two facts:-

1.  The greater liquidity of capital today. More cash in circulation.

2.      The Times/Sotheby Art indexes which started in 1966.

Chess book collectors could conclude that dealers catalogues are the equivalent of those Sotheby indexes.

So Peter Wilson of Sotheby’s started the indexes and graphed them and showed (proved?) that art goes up 25-200% each year! No wonder this boosted the prices. The same can be said about certain chess book dealers catalogues. The 1561 Lopez being a case in point. Create the market, create the indexes and collecting becomes respectable for wealthy people. Hughes concluded that the confidence in art as an investment rested on two matters:-Real or induced scarcity and pure irrational desire. Hughes had another article to come “What happens when the bubble bursts?” I didn’t read that but any analysis of the stock market index will show an increase over many years when a graph is produced. That is inflation of the reduced value of money. So if art works or chess books are keeping pace with inflation then the collector is safe. The big rule is “Provided one doesn’t pay too much in the first place”. And I guess “Don’t sell when the market is down”.

Barrie Ellen expressed interest in my views above and concentrated on second hand books only being of the view that new books were far too dear. "In my opinion"” he wrote, "and from experience and records, I think that as far as this country is concerned (Britain) second hand books have merely kept pace with inflation over the past few years….”

In May the Melbourne Chess Club Jumble Sale was on and thanks to Ian Rogers who passed my name onto the Club President, a catalogue came my way and I purchased “The Return of Alekhine” and “The Dux” for $25 each. Both very rare Australian chess books which had been on my wants list for years. I missed “How Euwe Won” which went for $35.

Robert McWilliam wrote me that he still hadn’t received the 10 copies of Whyatt that I’d sent 19 March. So I replied on 12 June that BCM had sent me some chess books from St Leonards on Sea on 15 March and so a race was on. As it turned out my books won getting to Robert on 14 June – over 3 months on sea.

Mrs Loranth responded to my less than punctual correspondence with details of the appraisal of the White collection by Thomas Holmes on October 22 1928. There were 284 Manuscripts valued at $79,675; 137 copies of Manuscripts -$22,265; 27 Incunabula $2,700; 19 x 16th century $1425; 200 later volumes $10,000; 1000 volumes of Periodicals $4,000; 1 album of photos of chess personalities $50; 1 album of 230 photographs with chess problems and greetings to Alain White $1,000; 658 volumes of clippings $5,240; 958 volumes of chess unclassified $47,999; 2827 volumes of stories and novels and 1265 classed books $4,092. Excluding the latter category there were 11,502 volumes plus 421 Manuscripts for a total value of $178,437 (Chess & Checkers Collection).

There is a misprint on p 46 of the article on the White Collection  - The Deluge of Chess Literature - in Horowitz and Rothenburg’s “The Complete Book of Chess” 1963 where it states “five thousand chess items” was the total when White died. From the above it is clear the figure is considerably higher and very much alters the rate of growth from 1928 to 1963 but Mrs Loranth thought that until the issue was computerised and the White and Hague databases plus White’s notes and other bibliographic sources, an "irrefutable conclusion" ”on the total number of chess items was not possible.

The library also got Lasker’s scrapbooks and his surviving correspondence, the latter was damp and mildewed but eventually separated and a field day for a future Lasker biographer.

After the Dick Ford sale in London the State Library of Victoria advised me that they had offered up to £1500 for the Rowbothum. The Library asked me to give them my opinion on future rare book purchases which was very nice of them. The problem was that whilst I was happy to assist, I wasn’t buying much anymore because of the weak Australian dollar AND my knowledge of the rare books was not all that skilled. I did say that between all of us that we could ensure a fair bid was made though.

In November Michael MR sent me a wants list! That was amusing. His big want was the Australasian Chess Review 1919 –1939. I gave him Peter Parr’s address. My big want was to hear about the Dick Ford sale.

1986 -  In February Dr Niemeijer sent me his new address Laan 20, 1151 AA Broek in Waterland. Sad for me – no more letters to 54 Backershagenlaan. My luck in his lists and also Barrie Ellens were on the poor side but that had to be expected with minimal purchases.

Edward Winter wrote some pertinent comments about collectors and his own attitude was much more functional with a simple photocopy of a rare book giving as much pleasure as an original. He only liked rare books if they offered the prospect of exciting unknown information, but rarity values in terms of price leaves him “totally cold”.

Are collectors eccentric? There was a great collector who had a rare book rebound by a famous binder. The collector took the book back as it wouldn’t close properly. The binder uttered the classic remark:-

“Heavens sir, You’ve been reading it!”.

And whilst one hopes that all collectors do read their books and make some useful comment on them, there are some who collect for collecting’s sake only. Most collectors cannot read the ancient languauges in some of the rare books they buy. I am one of those and I hear everyone saying – do something about it! I did write to Mr Winter that rare book photocopies are damaging to the rare book unless photographic reprints.

It was also nice to get a booklet from Alesssandro Sanvito on the history of chess in Lombardy.

Edward Winter is a great correspondent and was interested in my comments about the eccentricity of collectors, myself included. I have often been accused of it in a hush hush way when asked by acquaintances what I do in my free time. This was his reply:-“..My own observation does not suggest that people in chess (i.e. not necessarily players) have more problems than anyone else. You would be amazed at the convoluted personal dramas that simmer (mostly) beneath the surface in one or two of Geneva’s football clubs….

The argument about people hiding behind chess and forgetting about living is heard quite often – and has been used about Alekhine. Yet if anyone lived, it was surely him. It is not altogether clear to me what “living” is. A trip to the supermarket, two shorts in the bar and home to watch television all evening? A typical routine, but hardly living. I would be more tempted towards the argument that chess is a wonderful hobby because of its different aspects (history, mathematics, computers, etc-not forgetting chess play!) – variety is not lacking. Not that I am suggesting it is enough on its own, but it is more than enough for a hobby. To think that some people collect bottle labels!…”.

Dale wrote me an anxious note in September worried that I was no longer a collector. I wrote back telling Dale that he was right. A daughter going to College next year was one thing. The Australian dollar being worth 60 cents US was another.

It was interesting to see usage figures for the MVA at Melbourne for 1986. About 1000 people per month average January – August.

Of course my wants were still important and I bid for two Overbrooks in Barrie Ellen’s latest lists:-A Sketchbook at £85 and Silhouette at £60. I missed both.

Arthur Willmott the great Australian solver and problem friend had a coup in late October 1986 which he can best explain:-“ I had a stroke of luck yesterday, whenever I go to Adelaide which is only about every 3 months although 1 hours drive only, I call into a second hand bookshop and browse through the few chess books and have never seen anything worthwhile, but yesterday found 10 problem books, 7 of them Xmas series and got the lot for $30. The oldest one was “Les Tours de Force” 1906, there were 2 dated 1911-“More White Rooks” and “Running the Gauntlet” and thought it strange for 2 Xmas Series in the same year. The others were 1914, 1925, 1933 & 1934. One of the other books was “Chess Problem Science” by Kipping and inside the front cover was written “With the author’s compliments to F T Hawes. C S Kipping June 1938. Another of the books had the following “Awarded to P O Pedler Esq. Of Blyth SA 1st Prize Schor Theme Tourney Australasian Chess Review 1935. Naturally I was thrilled by my find…”  And so he should be! At $3 a book that was a great coup. I guess the dealer must have sold the original seller about $20 or $2/copy. A tragedy for the original seller who did little research. I think they were part of P O Pedler’s collection. He was a South Australian and Fred Hawes would have sent him those books as Pedler was solving pre WW2 in ACR. Pedler was one of the best and a good friend of the late Frank Ravenscroft. He was an Australian problem giant.

Clive Farmer sent a letter from England in late October telling me that he would be in Australia with his wife in late November staying in Sydney and would like to call. Unfortunately we live 300 miles due west of Sydney. Clive rang from Sydney on 21 November and we had a great talk. He had about 1000 books, a full run of BCM, Chess Amateur and Chess Monthly (Eng) and is a keen book binder, making money from the work.

Robert McWilliam was suitably stunned with Arthur’s coup and suggested that it would have been fair enough $30 for each book!! I had passed onto Robert the news of Brian Tomson’s death and that his collection was headed to the University of Newcastle. I bought a few problem books from Robert during the year but little else overseas.

1987 – Tony Mantia replied to my letter of late last year and sent photos of his library. He had a wonderful collection and that has been written up in earlier pages.

It was nice to hear from Ken Fraser that Clive Farmer had a morning with him at the MVA and saw the collection and the conservation and bookbinding departments.

And John Rather sent his 1987 catalogue which allowed me to bid for an early BCM and “A Sketchbook” which had bobbed up again. No luck.

In March Ken Fraser stayed a night with us and it was great to show him my library, give a few duplicates to the MVA and show my photo collection. He was going through to Armidale to collect the chess papers of the late Gaius McIntosh who had been a very fine correspondence chess player in the past. His widow had donated the papers to the library. Just before Ken arrived he responded to my earlier letter on collecting:-“..I was interested in your enclosures about collectors… the trouble is that they come in all shapes and sizes and they have so many different approaches. Take for example your comments on The Philidorian. For practical purposes you need the text of the magazine. Well, you can have that for a few dollars by getting hold of (which I am trying to do) a recent reprint of it published by the Chess Player Nottingham. At the same time I think that a collection like ours should have the original and so when it appeared in Rather’s catalogue (which he sent to us airmail) we rang the States to try and get it. It had already been sold to, of all places, The Hague collection. They already had it but the reason they went for Rather’s copy was that it had practically all the original covers. For that they paid $400 whilst Rather sold us a set, without the original wrappers, for $250 I think it was. It arrived last week and I think you are right. It’s a piddling little thing, but for the sake of the collection we had to have it. The first English chess magazine and all that. At least in a library we can put it out in a display case showing the earliest chess magazines from all over the world and slowly we might get our $250 worth out of it.

I don’t know that I’ve said anything valuable about collectors and collecting but I do know that I find myself going in two directions about it all. I appreciate the value of a rounded and well-balanced collection or of a collection which concentrates on just one particular strand of a subject; but I find myself uncomfortable with the intensity which so often creeps into collecting or with the approach which finds it difficult to throw out the rubbish that accumulates or even to see that it is rubbish. For example, we have one book which is in the collection ONLY because the cover has a picture of some chessmen. It’s some science fiction novel of some sort in German which we bought from Lothar Schmid. Useless it is. But then, some people collect advertisements which have chess pictures in them. It’s what turns you on I suppose…”.

Ken raises the perennial problem of chess book buying by mail. He bought the Walker magazine “The Philidorian” on spec just like I did. Mine has the signature of Miron Hazeltine in it and is dated “1856 N.Y.City” Pre Morphy. And, I am also a George Walker fan. I doubt if I could part with it.

The book “On Collecting” by Lord Eccles 1968 has a good chapter on book collecting. I wish I’d read it before I purchased it in 1984 when my buying run was over. On p 101 he writes:-“..Collecting ought to be fun and it cannot be if you choose a subject outside your means. Much better to aim modestly and make a really good group than pine for the rarities that are beyond your reach….” And  this is where “mail order” buying comes unstuck. Yes, sure, you can send them back to most dealers and probably soon get a reputation as a pest not worth sending books to. And then some of us, and I’m in that category, have a wish to learn other languages and READ those superb book in german just like the great Dr O’Keefe did in the 1930’s. But I doubt if I ever will. What is the relevance in this? My wife laughs at those non English language books and I have curbed my buying in that area a lot. But what can one do when a dealer sends a list and there is a foreign book that has a five star rating by critics?  Buy it!

I also got a letter from the great French chess book collector Dr Jean Mennerat requesting a copy of “A Chess Miscellany”. It started a good correspondence. And when Ken was here he saw Barrie Ellen’s catalogues and was interested in them.

In April another catalogue came from Dr N and I bid for a few minor items in it. I suggested to him that if someone would pay $50 million for a van Gogh that minor art works such as chess books might continue to hike.

I sent a photo of Ken and myself to him as a memento of Ken’s only visit . Reading the paragraph by Maurice Rheims in his lovely book “The Glorious Obsession” to Ken was something I enjoyed. Some of us have lucky coups but Rheims knew value when he saw it:-

The scene was the Hotel des Ventes Treasure Island about November 1960:-

“..having a few minutes to spare before auctioning someone’s library, I passed the door of a salesroom where the leavings from a number of personal estates were about to be dispersed in one of those sales executed ‘by order of the court’ and followed assiduously by minor antique dealers and the old-clothes merchants. Poor stuff, if the sombre symphony of brown and rufous shades exhibited by the furniture piled ceiling high was anything to go by.

I entered the adjoining storeroom were they were making heaps of the lots already knocked down. It could have been a set for a play by Gogol; something between a morgue, the office of a suburban law court, and a slaughterhouse.

Perched on his rostrum, a colleague of mine was arranging a few small items on one of the oak trays, covered in rep, which is the standard form of display for lots of this class. As each piece was passed to him by his clerk, the auctioneer announced its particulars.

“A small japanned box, reproduction Napoleon III. Three tin soldiers. And..” he groped for the right word, “a kind of glass block, with ornamental spirals. Cracked in places,” he added.

The porter took the tray and displayed it to the assembly. “Who will bid twenty francs?” asked the crier.

A few hands went up. The first three rows were occupied by regulars who kept up a running fire of comments among themselves and tried to value the items.

“Thirty francs..thirty five…forty francs…come on gentlemen, let’s get on with it”. My colleague was bored.

The tray wobbled like a palanquin being carried over a bumpy road. My neighbour held it up on its way round. At that moment the lump of glass, curiously mottled with patches of milky white, flashed briefly into vivid prismatic colour. But what most people were interested in was the reproduction japanned box. I made a tiny movement. My colleague, smiling, noted my bid: eighty francs.

“For your collection, Maitre?” said a dealer ironically.

The fact that I was pushing up the price made people curious. Were they missing something? They asked to have it shown to them again.

Others pushed the price up too, as if on purpose to annoy me. 300 francs. I went on signalling. At 700 francs the hammer came down. I left the box and toy soldiers where they were, put the lump of glass in my pocket and hurried off to the room where the books were waiting.

And while the expert was pointing out the features of a certain first edition of Aurelian on Japanese vellum, together with four unpublished letters by the poet Louis Aragon, I put my hand in my pocket. My purchase felt heavy and lifeless. For a long time it stood on my desk, keeping the telephone company and increasing the usual congestion; in hot weather I used to take it in my hands.

A few years ago, the great Orientalist Jean-David Weill called on me to discuss what to do with certain persian miniatures.

“Allow me,” he said, picking up the lump of crystal. “How extraordinary. It’s tremendously rare. How on earth did you manage to get hold of this pawn?”

“A pawn? From a set of chessmen?”

“Yes,” he said “And it was carved in the Middle East about the tenth century”.

Today, whenever I look at this relic chipped at neck and base; this survivor from the age of the Caliphs, I wonder what mysterious train of circumstances has brought it into my hands. What first put it into circulation? What had been the lives and fates of its previous owners? Did they know how valuable it was? How did it reach the Hotel des Ventes? Why had it chosen me as its possessor?

Someday a child of one of my grandchildren will overlook the value of this pawn. It will set out for some new sale and be forgotten again---it’s nothing much to look at, after all. An inhabitant of Quimper or New Jersey will acquire it and put it on his desk; it’s heavy enough for a paperweight. And sooner or later some dolt will drop it on a stone floor and it will expire, shattered into a thousand pieces”.

Probably a pawn from the rock crystal pieces shown in Wichmann (Plate 7). A pity the pawn is not pictured. The description page in W. suggests a height of 3.7cm; diam 2.5cm cylindrical object, curving at the top. One piece with palmetto decoration. Not quite “ornamental spirals” nor “a glass block”. On page 21 of Lanier Graham’s book are shown the Ager chessmen. These have more circular design but again not really convincing. Would Rheims or his family really sell it as a paperweight once it’s value was known??

A letter from Dale mid-year had me bidding for some small problem items. And a small gift from Dr N of an interview he gave to “New in Chess” by ten Geuzendam 1986 but in Dutch!   I’m now living in a small village” he wrote,”But collecting chess literature is still one of my hobbies…” It was to be the last catalogue received from this most gracious of men. He was very pleased to get the photo of Ken Fraser and myself in our Narromine backyard.

And then came the English version of that Dr N interview with Geuzendam from NIC No 4 of 1986. It is just simply stupendous and a MUST for all book lovers. “Your foremost urge should be love of the book” was the heading and that just about sums it up. The article displayed every quality of the great man. He was helpful, kind, sharing and a philanthropist.

What a noble act to give his collection to the public and then work for it until he died. It was kind of Ken Fraser to send me this interview and the news that the Henry Tate papers as well as MacIntosh’s were now in the MVA. Tate’s papers had been handed in by Arnold Fraser of Nunawading and a member of the defunct Camberwell Chess Club to which Tate’s daughter many years ago gave those papers.

Michael MMR’s sale was a shock and later I heard he’d taken up bridge. Sacrilege!

Jean Mennerat sent a nice note on receiving “A Chess Miscellany” and a copy of his superb bookplate. He had a den in his house too and had left Paris two years ago for the country. He had started his chess collection when a medical student in 1937.

And I sent a full wants list to R McW of the BCPS – mostly problem books. He noticed that quite a lot had disappeared from it since the last list I sent to him in 1982. Especially Westminster Papers.

In November 1987 Ken Fraser sent me some heavy analysis on BCM 1969 p 218 where it stated in Vol 1 of CPC that a portrait of Philidor by Gainsborough had been in the possession of a Mr Holford. BCM wanted to check that out then and KF could not help. That great historian James Keeble had noted a J Holford owned a Caxton and that made me think the Gainsborough Philidor might be a possibility. There is no Holford in the 1749 Book List of Subscribers, nor in the 1777 Book List published in “Our Folder” March 1923. Pity.

And there was a big hunt for the 1870 booklet on the telegraphic match games between NSW and Victoria in 1870 and published by Henniques. To date no-one has found it.

The great man Dr Niemeijer had passed on 5 October 1987 aged 85.

1988 -  The tragic news for collectors in late 1987 was the double suicide/mercy killing of the Australian chess duo-the Kellners. John was depressed after a car accident and it appeared Narelle helped him end it all and then a few days later her own life. I knew them both and especially John and found the whole thing upsetting. John had encouraged me back in the early 1960’s to keep up my chess interest and I am still glad he did. There was a fire but most of the library was saved excluding the manuscript and letters material. The library went to Bob Theakstone of the NSW Chess Association and later Cathy Chua got some of it.

In April R McW of BCPS sent me some missing back issues on The Problemist gratis.

And in June a book that had been on my wants list for 20 years was missed! The reason? I hadn’t sent my wants list to Barrie Ellen. The volume was Volume 12 of the “Chess Amateur”. Ah well – them’s the breaks.

In mid 1988 Robert McW sent me the “Confidential Report of the sinking of the St Margaret”. This was the merchant ship my father was killed on in February 1943 on the way to South America. A friend of his worked in Admiralty and it was a thrill to get it 45 years after the event. It even included the U Boat and its Captain’s name. Another benefit of friendship with dealers.

We went to Expo in Brisbane in July and I spent some time browsing the book shops of that city. Picked up a couple of cheapies and listened in to a ‘stock-take’ of sorts where the pretty young girl read out the titles of books to a serious young man and chatted him up at the same time. Ah, love blooms everywhere and old book shops should not be immune. There were some lovely chess sets in the Russian Pavilion at Expo and also Kasparyan’s “Domination in 2345 Endgame Studies”.I missed Karpov as his flight was delayed.

I sent my wants list to Barrie Ellen – better late than never. Naturally it contained Volume 12 of the “Chess Amateur”! And KF sent me Vol 2 of Steinitz’s “Modern Chess Instructor”. The Melbourne Library had acquired it on 12 August 1905. A nice companion volume to Vol 1.

Oscar Shapiro sent me a book list in late 1998 but as I wasn’t buying much I thanked him for it and made some comments about book prices. The Cozio was $2500, a set of Le Palamede was the same. A colleague of his had sold two Cozios for $2000 each a year or so earlier. His 1988 Catalogue copy was uncut! Amazing.

KF sent me a photo of Anatoly Karpov, Gary Wastell and himself in the MVA on 30 Oct. It is a terrific snap of them all and good publicity for the library. And in mid November an old chess friend and his wife George and Merle Andrews visited. It was grand to see them. George and I first played chess almost 30 years earlier.

1989 – I thanked Ken Fraser for sending me the article on Kurt Rattman given earlier in these pages. My sort of article as Ken surmised.

Another list from John Rather had the Fiske Memorial books and a few CPC’s but I missed them all.

On Alex Goldstein’s passing in September last year a few months went by but a message was got to Ken Fraser and eventually the Goldstein Papers came to the MVA. Another pleasing result and safe now. Alex’s books were forwarded onto the BCPS by the MVA as required in his will.

Ken had lunch with Mrs Goldstein in mid April and here’s what he wrote:-“…Boy, what a cook! Superb fish (John Dory) and then, after a palate cleanser of an excellent but very simple pureed apple she topped it off with coffee and TWO magnificent Polish cakes. No wonder Alex had a verse framed in her honour about being able to do without a chessboard but not without a good cook”.

The library also had an interesting phone call from Bookseller John Dean who had two leaves from the 1483 Caxton. He had bought them in Brisbane at a book dealers fair a few weeks earlier. $2,500 was the asking price and as the library had fragments of a Caxton, it was interested. It turned out that the full leaf was advertised in a Melbourne paper “The Age” 6 May 1989. I was not able to find out if the library acquired the two items and naturally the provenance was essential for the library.

The interesting question was how could those two pages have survived so long as to be offered for sale 500+ years later. Yes, they could have been slumbering inside some ancient folio. Or they could have been out of one of the many defective Caxtons in the world. A detective story par exellence.

I sent my wants list to Clive Farmer on receipt of his catalogue and I sent him my meagre order plus a wants list. Clive very graciously sent me the missing No 130 of the Feb. 1879 Westminster Papers in photocopy making my set complete. No charge either. A friendly gesture. The library at Melbourne got a 1762 Philidor.

I bid for a 1714 Greco and two years of CPC – 1851 and 1852 from Barrie Ellen and was lucky enough to get the CPC’s. That left only 1848 mssing to complete a full run of the first series. I still miss this volume today.

The Tasmanian dealer Neville Ledger pulled off a great coup around this time purchasing some old chess books in Sydney that belonged to a Mr Shaddock. I have had a long association with Neville and he is a good chess friend. Neville decided to keep the books for some years and sold them in 1995.

Boris Spassky visited Melbourne in May 1989 and KF kindly gave me his signature and a list of the simul players at the Hyatt 25 May.

And in late 1989 I bid for Meyer’s “A Complete Guide to Chess” £65 with Barrie Ellen and was successful. Very late in 1989 I took up his offer of 17 volumes of La Strategie for £385 by lay by. It was good of Barrie to agree to this.

1990 – John Rather sent a very attractive problem catalogue but I was unable to bid due to La Strategie.

And early this year Jas Duke of Melbourne wrote me for the first time. His knowledge of American Civil War History and 19th century chess history was overpowering. It was to be a very productive two years before his demise at age 52 from an hereditary illness.

In April I wrote to Mrs Loranth after a five year lapse. As usual she responded and I was able to order the very rare 1861 Chess Monthly on microfilm and continue research with Jas Duke and the Civil War.

And Nigel Nettheim and his wife Dawn spent Easter with us. Nigel is a computer expert and programmed our old IBM PC-XT to create chess diagrams. It was great to see them.

About mid-year Ken Fraser wrote to say that a change in the State Library meant he would no longer be looking after the chess collection. He had been in charge for twenty years.

I wrote to Ken thanking him for his custodianship of the collection over that period and that it had grown well because of him. It was sad to read in BCM June p 264 1990 that changes were occurring at The Hague.

My good problem friend Arthur Willmott made another spectacular coup in an Adelaide bookshop – “The Chess Euclid” by Kling.

My wife Norma booked our trip to England. We were leaving 3 August back 27 October. Bookwise and dealerwise the trip was great. We carried out research in the British Library, Edinburgh, Dublin, Oxford and met Bernard Cafferty if briefly and Robert McWilliam of the BCPS and his wife Lil and their corgi dog Sarah. The highlight was going to UIG and standing on the Lewis chess pieces site. A very few minor books were bought at Stornoway, Chester, Cavan in Ireland, Plymouth and the Isle of Wight. I also bought a replica Lewis set at the British Museum. We also saw the Lewis pieces in that great place and also Edinburgh and as well saw chess pieces at Winchester and Norwich. I also tried to find de la Bourdonnais and McDonnell’s graves in Kensal Green cemetery. No luck. A visit with Ken Whyld was really good. His library and knowledge on all things chessic were overpowering. A visit to Bridport (JB of Bridport) was also interesting and Liverpool Library was tremendous for access to wills. I found Howard Staunton’s there. The major regret was not calling to see Barrie Ellen after promising that I would. Two things kept me away:-the London traffic and temptation. All book buyer’s know what I mean.

My one and only dealing with Michael Ehn of Vienna was about this time. I ended up sending him a Whyatt plus a draft for the Sacharov Russian Chess Bibliography. Dr Chicco passed on 30 August 1990. Alessandro Sanvito was sad and so was I.

1991 – I received photos from Dr Jean Mennerat of his library which must rank as one of the finest in the world.  I also bid for the Dobbs “A Chess Silhouette” in John Rather’s sale at $125 but missed again.

In March I received a lovely letter and enclosures from Pam Thomas of Hastings whom I had met in Hastings Public Library last year. This was where the 1895 Hastings Tourney took place and Pam was researching the building.

The Sacharov from Michael Ehn arrived mid-year plus a photo from Robert McWilliam of our visit to their home on the Isle of Wight. Also Montigny’s “Stratagems of Chess” came from Barrie Ellen for £35.

Later Robert McWilliam filled in a few Problem Zagreb wants. This is a difficult magazine to buy. And about this time Ken Fraser sent me some tremendous research on A G McCombe the Scots player cum businessman who came to Australia  in 1853 and lost his entire business due to a shipwreck near New Zealand in the 1860’s. A tragic story for “The Great Chess Frauds” person and a credit to KF in digging it out. The MVA was also interested in Captain’s Cook’s chess set but would not buy.

I bought Gossip’s “Chess Players Manual” in Barrie Ellen’s sale for £26.

1992 – About April I got a catalogue from Dale Brandreth which included “A Sketchbook of American Chess Problematists” for $425 but I missed it. It was a very good catalogue and the residue of several good collections Dale had acquired over the last 10 years.

About this time the State Library of Victoria got a 1694 Hyde and later again did rather well at the Blass sale as mentioned in earlier pages.

In mid-year I wrote to Dr Harald Ballo. The link, as always, was John van Manen and I told Dr Ballo that my book buying ‘ disease’ had died down ‘somewhat’.

With Jas Duke’s death mid year, the Melbourne library acquired his collection by family donation. A very safe place for the library. It was very hard for me to get over Jas Duke’s passing. As a chess historian he was up with the best of them. One of his letters to me was 17 pages long and that in an age when few people write. He never kept copies of his letters and so John van Manen ensured his series of letters went to the MVA where they are now. His library was difficult to assess being a mixture of chess books and history. His collection of Olms reprints was rather good.

My last job for 1992 was to send off some “Chess in Australia” magazines to Jean Mennerat who had been kind sending postcards etc and was having difficulty keeping his copies up to date. Jean had bought a couple of nice items at the Blass sale and also got a few in Dale’s massive problem book catalogue. Good for him.

On the 18 December my good friend Ken Fraser retired from the library he had so lovingly served for decades. What a loss he was. John van Manen, Ian Rogers and his wife Cathy were there for the historic occasion. Some people should not be allowed to grow old. His knowledge on chess grew all the time but he probably looked forward to the day.Ken received a copy of a rare print of two people playing chess in Geelong in 1858. His pre 1900 Catalogue of the Library was a fine effort.

1993 – I received from Robert John McCrary a copy of “The Birth of the Chess Tournament” 1982. A most interesting 13 page document with excellent references.

Robert McW sent me the Karpov Encyclopaedia in March. Again a beautiful book. Pity my Russian is nil. In April he sent the FIDE problem albums.

In mid year Ken Fraser advised that Berkelouw’s of Sydney put out a fabulous list of chess books. The library got some good material from it. The library also acquired some material from the former Sydney chess player, barrister Malcolm Broun and got a Carrera about this time from overseas. Ken was doing voluntary cataloguing at the library of a Tuesday and Friday.

Harald Ballo and I were discussing “the total number of chess items” and he had a lot of useful things to say:-“…I do not have any certain knowledge on how many chess books there are today. As far as printed chessmatter is concerned a chess item means for me simply each independent entity of a printed chess theme. There are Journals, counting as one item per year, there are articles in Journals, which need not mainly be devoted to chess, there are books and booklets and Typoscripts.

I am quite sure that modern books are all registered by the main national libraries in England, France, USA, Australia, Russia, Japan, Spain, Italy and Germany. With upcoming computer aided storage and registration systems and the agreement upon international classification systems (ISBN) for example, there should be no problem to quantify those books which have been printed since that time. It therefore would be convenient to subdivide the whole subject into three categories of Chess books.

1.      Books edited and printed before 1900.

2.      Books printed before the upcoming international book classification systems and after 1900 (the National Library of Germany is the main one here and already at an internationally accepted standard). With rather high probability one can estimate that these have been introduced at least in the late seventies.

3.      Books printed after this time.

Calculating Book numbers under the first category makes one refer to the old authors and bibliographies such as von der Lasa, Walker, Rimington Wilson etc. Niemeijer wrote a nice booklet about “Schaakbibliotheken” where one can find some more information. I am quite sure that there are already estimates of the books printed before the time when Bledow, von der Lasa and Robert Franz started collecting chess books. I think that Petzold gave some estimates in an article concerning the von der Lasa collection. I don’t think the number of those books is difficult to calculate.

The second category covers the books printed since 1900 is more difficult but will be easily solved when databases in one of the big libraries in The Hague, Cleveland or Bamberg are available.

The third category should be easily calculated. There is an enormous number of books since 1970……

More generally said, Bob, I do not think that the crude number of chess books in one’s collection is of real importance. So, I have never counted them. As I recently bought ChessBase I will soon be able to publish my own chessgame-database in printable form. The exact number of my chess ‘items’ will be known when I have finished creating my database a draft of which is enclosed…..

I find books on my shelves when I am browsing through them at midnight when my family is sleeping and I then play through the old games. Reading Walker or Lewis or Preti or Fiske revives the old times…Returning to the issue of how many English, German and French etc Chessbooks have been published I can’t answer this. General considerations suggest that English language books must hold the leading position”.

Harald enclosed a 21 page bibliography of his books with 396 entries. There were some marvellous items. It dated to September 1993. It was news to me to see a reprint of Betts 1968 work in 1988 by the Chess Player Nottingham.

In October Barrie Ellen sent List 38 but my wants were minor. Ken Whyld also produced List No 44, his first for many years.

In November John Rather had another “Sketchbook”. This time it was $385 but again I missed out.

Eric Fisher wrote later that month. He now had a full set of BCM and a full set of Hoffer’s Chess Monthly. He got that for £269. Very good buy. He also had a full set of Westminster Papers and Brentanos. A pretty good collection. He wrote asking for help in collecting Australasian Chess Review and only needed 34 issues from the years 1930 –36. Eric went to the Blass sale:-“..He had some wonderful stuff. Dale Brandreth, Lothar Schmid, Jim Hayes, Ken Whyld and other collectors were there. It was all over my head and so fast!….so I didn’t bid for anything. One lot that wasn’t sold was a scoresheet of Morphy’s and a full set of scoresheets from 1927 all signed-beautiful!..” He finished his letter by writing that:- “it was one a.m. the coal fire’s gone out, my feet are freezing so I’m off to bed with my hot water bottle…at 10.00am (the next day) It”s snowing heavens high!”

A lovely enthusiastic letter, I replied that it was 40 degrees here with bushfires!

1994 – Tyrrell’s famous store at Crows Nest Sydney had been on my agenda for many years and we got there in the New Year. My friend Nigel Nettheim told me that a chess collection had been sold to Tyrrells but on arriving one chess book took my interest though it was rather dear at $25. It was “Chess” by R F Green 1897 5th edition inscribed:- “6th N.S.S. Tourney won by F R Smith 15/11/1898 O G Albers(?) Chess Editor”. I was astounded. How could this book have turned up here as Frank had left me most of his books in his will? Then I remembered – he had given me the odd book when I had visited and he had obviously given this book to some enthusiast as a gift many years ago. I rang his daughter Enid Daglish at St Ives and she was amazed also. It just went to show that rarely do chess books ever get destroyed. They seem to get recycled. A great store with books all round the walls to about 3 metres height with lower central shelving at waist height. I saw one of John Watkinson’s books on chess at Tyrells. I didn’t buy it.

A Christmas present I sent out to various friends was “Chess Extracts from Proquest” and in it was a long article on Marcel Duchamp plus others. Jean Mennerat was involved in writing an article in German on the Chapais manuscript. Harald Ballo and he were working together on getting it right for publication. Jean had also had a big reunion with his wartime friends and “chess was stranded” so he said.

I bid in Barrie Ellen’s No 39 catalogue but all sold.

And the “Catalogue of the Books and periodicals to 1900 in the M V Anderson Chess Collection” compiled by Ken Fraser was published 15 March. It was the final version of a draft issued in December 93. Anyone wanting a copy should send $5 to the Library at 328 Swanston Street Melbourne 3000 Victoria Australia – 37 pages and 624 items. Note the periodicals count as 1 item.

A marvellous letter arrived from Harald expanding on his bibliographic views:-

“23 May 1994..The Bibliographical data concerning my Chessbook-Collection comprises right now exactly 1773 entries counting the years of La Strategie and CPC and the doublets separately. In a computer based data base it is much more convenient to make one entry for each year. In this case the program can create itself special bibliographical outputs as there are “all printings before 1900” and so on. Making the entries I began ‘bookshelf by bookshelf’ and so it came that Lusis’ bibliography is not yet entered.

Concerning the Statistics it is important to notice that for example Cleveland lists many different issues of Vida and Cessoles etc. which makes the total number much higher. Additionally, the Cleveland titles have been summed up in a Catalogue whereas Lusis and Betts made a Bibliography. A Catalogue always makes reference to a book which is physically present in the Bibliotheque and refers to it by a Signature number so that a researcher can find it on the shelves. On the other hand a Bibliography tries to sum up all known works which means that for example doublets aren’t there….A pragmatic way to solve the problem would be to examine the lists of the Collections of:-

1.      Robert Franz Katalog der Schach-Bibliothek des verstorbenem Herm Robert Franz, Albert Cohn Berlin 1885; the list comprises 1057 numbers not books; (I did not check if there are doublets etc)

2.      Catalogue of Books on the Origin, History, and Practice of the Game of Chess, On Sale by Richard Simpson, London 1863.

3.      Erneutes Verzeichnis meiner Schriften uber das Schachspiel, von der Lasa, Wiesbaden 1896. On the very last page of his Catalogue von der Lasa especially points out that due to differences in counting articles, paintings and periodicals it would not be possible to number the entries (not books) exactly. He gives however as an estimate the number of 2263 different entries.

4.      Verzeichnis der Bibliothek von Dr Max Lange, Leipzig 1900.

5.      Anton Schmid, Literature des Schachspiels, Wien 1847.

6.      Catalogue of the famous Chess Library…the property of the late R H Rimington-Wilson, Sotheby and Co., London 1928 and

7.      A catalogue of rare and valuable works relating to the History and Theory of the Game of Chess…formed by J W Rimington-Wilson, Bernard Quaritch 1929.

This should give together with other Bibliographies as Hyde and Twiss and not to forget van der Linde a good estimate about the books before 1850 or even 1900. Possibly the best way would be to create a computerised database for each of the referred catalogues or bibliographies and then compare these databases for each of the referred catalogues or bibliographies and then compare these databases with each other to exclude the doublets. For the machine it would be a matter of seconds or minutes to create one new big Chessbook-Database which should reflect the exact amount of all published chess books.

The same procedure can be undertaken with the more modern bibliographies as there are Cleveland, Sacharov, Betts, Lusis, den Haag, Euwe Amsterdam, M V Anderson and other minor ones like Summ or Bachl in Germany or deLucia in the States or Cieraad in Holland etc.

But who will pay for this work?”.

Some years ago when working and living in Essen, Harald purchased the chess items of Baldur Honlinger which contained many photos of the 1920’s tournaments with signatures on the back. Honlinger obviously was keen on this. Harald sent me a couple of photocopies and they truly are unique. But Harald’s knowledge of that era is even more impressive:-“..What has WW2 made of them?

Przepiorka died in a Concentration Camp and was never seen again in Tournaments….Seitz (a Jew) managed to escape to Argentina and lived in the sixties again in Germany/Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt. Hans Muller a supporter of Nazi Germany continued to live in Vienna/Austria as if nothing had happened. Honlinger went to prison in Dusseldorf because in France he had contact with Jewish chess players (as his widow told me). After he left prison he stayed in the region and finally settled in Wuppertal. Tartakower a WW1 participant on the German-Austrian-Entente side (see Wiener Schachzeitung of those years) lived after second War in Paris. I have a nice postcard from him written to the late Andre Muffang. Vukovic wrote his book about Kombinations and Kmoch managed to survive as an Integer man.

The History of all these brave Chessplayers has not yet been written…Due to the cold war this period has not been dealt with….”

Excellent stuff and perhaps Harald will write it up one day. He obviously has a love of history.

About this time John van Manen started sending the archival part of his chess collection to the State Library of Victoria and Jas Duke’s correspondence with him was one item. There were 8 boxes from John. It was sad for me to see this material going to the library because it meant my good friend was winding down his chess activities.

In May, Norma and I went to Melbourne and Adelaide in a 5000km round trip back to Narromine via Broken Hill. It was also nice to get a letter from Roger Noble of Hull and see the good progress being made there by that chess club.

As for Melbourne it was great and I put together a report on the progress of the library since my last visit in 1978. I saw all of the rare books if but briefly and noted the vacuum packing around some of the more brittle items. My main research time was spent with Helms’ “American Chess Bulletin” which was very pleasant reading. An enjoyable 3 half days. We continued on to Adelaide and met Inge and John van Manen and took a picnic to the “Whispering Wall” of Adelaide’s water supply. They stood on one side of the curved dam wall and we on the other a few hundred metres away and we could hear each other clearly! A curious parabolic effect. We also had some time with Arthur Willmott and his wife Isabel at their home and saw his skills at woodwork. On another day we toured the Adelaide bookshops (no luck) and saw Garry Koshnitsky’s collection in the State Library. On the final day we packed John’s library into the car for the trip home. He had sold most of his library to various overseas collectors including Bert Corneth.

Harald came back again on the subject of Catalogues and Bibliographies:-“..Concerning the amount of chessbooks I think, that it makes really a big difference to write a bibliography or to create a Catalogue. A Catalogue represents all the books that are physically present in one’s collection. Thus I am writing on a Catalogue, “my” Catalogue that represents “my” Books. In the days of large computerised databases it is much more convenient to enter each book or a given periodical separately. As I have already mentioned it is possible to gain with the help of the software completely new statistical insights.

In the meantime my database comprises 2102 entries. It is now possible for me to ask the computer how many books in the collection have been edited in Berlin before 1900 of which the author was Max Lange. Or is it possible to search for all periodicals in the German language, or to check for all my doublets. From the practical point of view I am thus able to check for if a given book is already in my possession. This method of constructing a data base implies that there are also some books (Volumes) that comprise more than one bibliographic entity. This is the case if for example two years of the Deutsche Schachzeitung have been bound together in one volume. So my catalogue represents the BOOKS and not the bibliographical entity. That makes it also possible to describe the book in detail (for example mentioning the cover, leatherbinding, stamps, inscriptions of former owners etc).

So the Catalogue represents a certain bibliotheque. And as I will point out later on I feel it is a creative work to establish a catalogue of one’s library. On the other hand a bibliography which merits the annex “scientific” bibliography always has to accept the international rules. It may be that a learned bibliograph will insist that one periodical with say 150 volumes counts bibliographically as one item.

However as you have mentioned it is far more interesting to refer to each year separately so you can provide more information! For example authors or better the editors of the DS Zeitung changed often over the years. So you have to make a special reference to it on the sheet if you give the whole periodical only one entry. What if one year is missing? In my collection of the DSZ the year 1879 is still lacking (I do not know exactly why this year; but it was Gerd Meyer who wrote one day to me that the years 1870 to 1880 seemed to be rarer than other years). So if you have one entry you have to mention on the card or in the datafile that this year is lacking and you have to mention that Editors changed, or even title has changed (from Schachzeitung to Deutsche Schachzeitung in 1871), new subtitles have been introduced etc. I find it much more suitable to make one entry for each book and to make exact reference as to author, date of edition, place of edition etc etc….

I began to quote former bibliographies and catalogues in my last letter to give an estimate of the exact number of chess books….But I did it in this way because I think it is really not so much interesting and without much practical benefit to know the number of modern chess books. In our scientific and technical world it is really of no special interest to know for example the exact number of medical books (there is by the way too much garbage). But it may well be of interest to know the number of all medical (or chess) books before say 1900 because one can theoretically hope to create a complete bibliography. So why not confine to this period where one can maybe obtain completeness? By the way a dream of every real collector. This is also the reason why one should start a collection by buying the really old books first and then the newer ones.

For me there is however another important point to mention. What we need and what makes life enjoyable is the creativity of man and the love we give each other….

I want to create my catalogue of chess books with reference to former owners, inscriptions and ex libris of former owners etc. Some time one can trace the way of the book. There exists as you will know a roman proverb “Libellis fata sua habeunt”, I do not know if my Latin is correct but it should mean “Books have their own fate”. And it is a reflection of my own personal interest…..

Finally I am still convinced that it is not very difficult to obtain a list of maybe not all but most of the chess books edited on the globe. One should try to invest some money to make an official demand at the Library of Congress in Washington and/or other National Libraries. Maybe we should wait a few months or one or two years. As I read recently a project in Germany is under way to connect all libraries by a computer based network. So one will be able to check by simple computer based procedures all the bigger and smaller libraries in Germany from your own PC!  Similar projects will certainly be under way in other countries on the globe…”

Another enthusiastic letter from Harald. Notice that his collection went from 396 items in September 1993 to 2102 in June 1994. My heavens what a growth rate!

It was good to get Bruce Hayden’s “Cabbage Heads and Chess Kings” from Barrie Ellen. A hard book to buy in Australia.

 Roger Noble weighed in with James Crake’s death date – 14 November 1929 aged 82. Here is his exciting letter:-“…it seemed that I was only going to get it if I searched myself for a date. So off I went to the Central Library one day and looked in the Kelly’s street directory to see if I could find where Crake lived around the late 1920’s/30’s. Individuals names are sometimes listed alphabetically in these books and I hoped I might stumble on something when….Yes! I found Crake living at No 440 Beverley Road Hull, registered as a chartered accountant. I then searched further and found his name occurred again up to 1933 but no longer after. This led me to believe he must have died in or around this date (1933). I hastily shuffled down stairs to the St Catherine’s index for Births, Deaths, Marriages, hoping there would be a spare place on the readers. I was in luck! My adrenaline was really pumping now, and I hurried to get to the deaths drawer. My first search was to go direct to 1933 but could find no trace of Crake’s death. I again searched into 1934/35/36/37/38 etc but still no trace or sign of anything I was looking for? I decided to regress and look prior to 1933. I searched 1932/31/30…nothing. Until suddenly there it was! Crake…James, Sculcoates, aged 82, died 1929, Oct-Dec qtr. Vol 9d/P.218. The only thing was that it didn’t give me an exact date to his death?

I again hurried back up to the local history library to get onto a Microfilm Reader to see if I could pin him down through the Hull Newspapers of the day. After a long search and waterfilled eyes I finally came across what you now have photocopied as Crake’s Obituary from the Hull Chess Club, saying that he died on Thursday 14th November 1929! Another look at the street directories of 1912 showed me that he was also living at No 427 Beverley Road and must have moved house later…”

James Crake was a very fine problemist and author of the book “Chess Whimsicalities” by “Expertus”. He was involved with Hull Chess for many years and a chess editor of some note. He was Cecil Purdy’s great uncle. Roger told me of “The Crake Trophy” which up until 1922 was still played for in Hull Chess.

Roger was interested to know if anything had been handed down to Cecil on Crake’s death and now with the death date, one could speculate on an anecdote from Chess World Nov 1954 p 257:-“the editor of Chess World was long ago the possessor of letters written to the Hull Chess Club by…Steinitz, Blackburne and Zukertort, in answer to inquiries as to what they would charge for visiting Hull and giving a six-games blindfold display, Z and B quoted a fee of £8/8/-; the world champion-as I think he was then, though I cannot check the dates, having sold the letters to an American collector, during the depression of 1930-1935 –quoted £6/6/- and said “I do not attempt to vie with my friends Mr Z and Mr B, whom I acknowledge much my superiors in this branch of the game”.

A lovely anecdote and though Anne Purdy could shed no light on it, would not this be just the thing a great uncle would send to an aspiring young relative keen on chess? Yes, I think Cecil got those letters from Crake or his family.

Well done Roger Noble!