A Letter to Bert (7/8)

A Letter to Bert (7/8)

Barrie Ellen had another useful and ‘new look’ catalogue for September 1994 and I bid for a few problem books. Kipping’s “The Chessmen Speak” was one and Mrs Baird’s “Three Move Problems and how to solve them”.

We also managed to put a plaque on John Wisker’s grave in Kew Cemetery Melbourne. Sad to see after 110 years nothing recorded his final resting place.It does now.

Ken Whyld advised in October that Manchester had the library and papers of the Manchester Chess Club but that it was a special collection and one needed to know that. There was also a good library of about 960 titles c 1800-1960 left by an old acquaintance, Edwin Gardiner, to the British Library. Items can be borrowed by the local library of one’s town. A catalogue came out in 1977.

Harald Ballo’s “Schach Zettell” column started in DSZ and proved very popular. He kindly sent me some issues which were shared with John van Manen who translated articles of interest.

John and I  finished the last volume of Australian Chess Lore No 6 and were pleased to have that series behind us. It was an interesting period but with the sale of John’s library and their proposed move to Port Macquarie it was the end.

I was very pleased to get a letter from the Hull Chess Club ‘securing the bonds’ between we Hull-ites and thanking all concerned for the plaque on the great man John Wisker. The curator of Kew Cemetery, John Shannon was very helpful.

The year ended with a letter from Ken Whyld writing on the benefits of the Oxford University Press (OUP) editor Betty Palmer and her help with the “Oxford Companion to Chess” 1984 by David Hooper and Ken. Betty went through every word they had written and,” rigorously questioned everything at all unclear, ambiguous, sloppily written, or seemingly out of keeping with the tone of the book. As a consequence the text was tightened in various places, the book clearly improved, and I believe that my own writing style has been permanently enhanced”, wrote Ken.

1995 -  The receipt of copies of the Hull Chess Club Magazine was a highlight and Eric Fisher was doing a grand job as editor. There is a photo of him with his library as background in Vol 1 No 2. It looked pretty impressive.

Norma was in Townsville for our first grandchild and whilst waiting she did some ringing around on Mount Alekhine. We got some good contacts but nothing positive.

One of the delights of Harald Ballo were his postcards. The one from Paris signed by Harald, his wife Nadia and Jean Mennerat was a joy. Oh to be with them, cruising around old book shops chatting about books, and listening to the coups. Yes, book-collecting has great joys and they are mostly harmless. Harald called it a ‘steeple chase’ through the libraries. Lucky them.

But we could have our little ‘steeple chases’ as well and on the way back home from Sydney after Easter we called into Mount Victoria Antiques and Bookshop. Norma had been there about 10 years earlier and bought me “Chess Its Poetry and Prose” for $45. Could there be any other rarities sitting around?

Have you any chess books” I asked the friendly Dorothy Quin, proprietor of the shop. She pointed me upstairs to a secluded corner of the lovely old 19 th century terrace home of two stories that had been converted into a bookshop with antiques. And there they were :-Murray’s “History of Chess” 1913 for $75; “To Alain White” $45; “Thema-Boek” $12; “Antiform” $65; “Echo” $55; “The Two Move Chess Problem in the Soviet Union” $55 and signed by Fred Hawes!!. These were clearly all his books but he had lived in Lithgow about 30kms away and died in 1963. Thirty two years later some of his chess books were for sale. I only had $150 on me and handed that over stating that I’d like to buy them all. She said for me to take them all and send her the rest of the money. A kind and generous lady. She had even remembered the sale 10 years earlier.

To own a 1913 Murray”s History was just great. I never thought I would. Ken Whyld wrote a booklet in 1994 called “A History of Chess” corrections and additions by Murray. It was useful to note that the 1913 print run was but 2000 copies of which relatively few were bound at the time. The front cover knight was in gilt. On copies bound later the Lewis Knight on the front cover lacked the gilt cover. I now knew my copy was from the second binding. During the recession of the 1930’s about 1000 copies were pulped. In 1962 OUP issued a photographic reprint of 1000 copies. A facsimile by the Benjamin Press, Northampton Mass., USA was published in 1968. So there really are very few first edition copies of the great work. I was pleased to be able to encourage Harald Ballo to buy a copy as a result of Ken’s research. My copy has a few biro underlinings in it and has been rebound internally and is much taller than the 1962 edition.

It was sad to get a letter dated 13/2/95 from Barrie Ellen with quite a few of my BCM wants listed on 16 May 1995. Naturally they were all nearly gone by my response. The perils of living down under.

Eric Fisher wrote about another Hull-ite, Henry Ralph Francis (1811-1900) and this was interesting! A chess-playing judge. The bloodhounds Ken Fraser and John van Manen were asked if they knew of him?

Harald sent “The Chess Bouquet” to me as a gift from over the ocean. I reciprocated with Tony Wright’s “Australian Chess to 1914”.

Ken weighed in with some good meat for Henry Ralph Francis’ bones but we needed more. And then in the Sydney newspaper “The Herald” I saw an article on Winston Terracini, a legal historian and barrister whose great library had been lost in a mix-up when he changed chambers. An absolute tragedy-all dumped at the garbage depot except one box. He was compensated ($32,000) and I wondered if he was the man to flesh out Henry Ralph Franics-he was! A great biography came from Mr Terracini and was forwarded onto Eric. We looked after our Hull-ites!

And Harald of course told me of the 1561 Alcala purchase for 3500 francs! He was lucky I wasn’t there is all I can say! But he deserved it. He bought a few for Jean Mennerat also.

Later in the year the Townsville Family History Society and its Research Officer Cherie Strickland found information on Mount Alekhine or “Alkaline” as it was written and the man who named it-Patrick Finnerty. This was passed onto Ken Whyld. And he wrote to Cherie on her brilliant slogging research.

And Harald finished off his Australian Chess Lore set by getting Volume 1 from Dale and Vol 5 from me. Good, another complete set in the world. Harald also bought a rare Cessolis Ms of Ischia dated 1419. It was formerly in Robert Franz’s library.

One of the exciting events of late 1995 was the opening of Berkelouws bookstore in Oxford Street Paddington. It was a lovely 3 storey building and complemented their huge storage depot at Berrima. There was a pleasant coffee shop on an upper floor where one could sit and read and drink coffee with cake. Pleasant. Many readers were thronging through for gifts for the coming Christmas. I noticed that many of the chess books came from the Los Angeles store.

1996 – Harald continued on with Schach Zettell in DSZ and also wrote me about his “Die fliegenden Schachzettell” which was to be a booklet on the world’s chess book collectors. I guess like Chess Collectors International but about books rather than chess sets.

And late last year-very late in fact-29 December I  met Bert Corneth at Peter Parr’s chess shop and we discussed chess books with Josef Reiff for an hour or so. It was great to meet Bert as he had bought some of JvM’s library. He is very tall and looked down on me and I’m 6’ 2”. We got on well and on New Years Day he rang from Port Macquarie to wish us well. Good of him and I asked him if he wanted the Salzmann book at Berkelouw’s for $10. He did of course and I sent it to him with a Reinfeld he was unable to carry from Peter Parr’s. I also met Bert’s wife Regina and their two children Odilia and Erik. Bert is full of home-spun humour such as:-“There is no such thing as a chess holiday with your wife”. The family were returning to Brunei.

Bert studies old openings books so that he can understand the play in old tournaments – very clever. He learned chess at age 8 at his grandmothers. And he is keen on organising tournaments. We met Nigel Nettheim at the State Library briefly and Nigel expressed interest in Bert’s wife who sang mezzo soprano as Nigel is a classical pianist. Norma, Bert and I had lunch at the library. A great pleasure to meet him. The family continued on to Brisbane and bought more chess books there. And yet Bert suggested earlier there was no chess holiday with one’s wife??

One of his future projects was to be a Dutch language chess bibliography. A very useful goal and one going towards the total number of chess items. Bearing in mind the Dutch percentage of total world chess items at 5%, multiplying the Dutch figure by 20 would be a good check on previous estimates. Assuming 34,000 as the figure at 1988 (a very conservative one) then there are 1,700 Dutch chess items.

I racked up 30 years as a member of the BCPS and when sending my subscription to Tony Lewis the Honorary Treasurer admitted that I was an inactive member. He was pleased to hear from me as he and wife Sally (the great solving double – T/Sal) had spent 14 months in Australia at Melbourne where Tony was an exchange scientist at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories.

I was also lucky in Barrie Ellen’s auction getting three unbound years of Chess by Wood.

Jean Mennerat sent a lovely postcard of Philidor released on the 200 year anniversary of his death. He had some comments to make about chess graves:-“Poor Whyatt had a tragic death and Wisker dead by tuberculosis like De Vere! It’s a pity that their graves were in such poor condition. It is the ineluctable doom of all graves and I remember once I saw a photo of the grave of Tartakower which was in a shocking condition. It’s the fate of humans, sooner or later, they crumble into dust…I took a photo of the grave of Captain Evans in Ostende some years ago (in poor condition also). It is inscribed on it that he was the author of a chess gambit!!…”

It’s sad in some ways that the great players are not recognised by FIDE and some monies put towards the upkeep of their graves. Certainly a category of world champions and historical personages would not be too much of a strain on funds. But perhaps Jean is right. We will all be dust one day. I rather like finding these resting places and have had some pleasant times wandering through various Sydney cemeteries looking for graves of the Australian chess champions. One remembers all their great battles over the chess board and many have no permanent marker where they rest forever. Are their chess games sufficient memorial?

I sent my version of “Die fliegenden Schachzettell” to Harald and got from Bert a very pointed question:-Bob, have you ever seriously considered learning German?” How right he was and how slack I’ve been but I had not. As for sending information on one’s collection, quite a few collectors as well as Bert expressed concern at that and so “Die fliegenden…” died on the vine. My reply to Bert was that Dr Niemeijer hadn’t crossed too many boundaries with his 1948 book on chess collections but on thinking about it that book was perhaps more about past chess collectors than present day.

Another great feature of contact with Barrie Ellen was his quick action on wants. A book I was keen to buy was Reinfeld’s “The Human Side of Chess” and a copy came my way in April at £16.50 including postage.

Ken Whyld made an interesting statement regarding auction sales:-“Most humans are in an abnormal psychological state when making a major purchase decision, or a sexual conquest, and in my opinion the avid collectors combine both of these instincts at auctions. Afterwards they revert to their old charming selves…! “   Ken was kind enough to say that he didn’t think he or I were avid collectors and I was relieved to read that.

But can one be sure? Money always plays its part with me. I simply cannot afford to play with the big boys – otherwise I suspect I would. But that aside, the different personality states he considers occur at auctions with otherwise normal people, is of interest. Certainly that Christies auction I went to back in 1976 was an eye-opener. One particular person at that sale was definitely in conquest mode. And Jim Jones and I were in some sort of conquest mode in 1979 at Mrs Shiel’s place. That was all done very sedately but with deadly intent. Jim won. And when Dale’s EXEN catalogue came in 1975 I can recall being very excited at the thought of owning some of those great books. In writing to Eric Fisher in 1993 when he was buying right, left and centre I wrote to Eric that he was in his “surge” period. I was in that in 1975. But gradually one realises one just can’t do all the books justice. I can’t with 1000+. And, I have no idea how Lothar Schmid copes with that question. But he, like Jean Mennerat and Harald Ballo are in a different category. And people like Dr Niemeijer, John Griswold White, Magnus Victor Anderson are different again. These three are philanthropists.

It was nice to hear from Harald that despite concerns fifteen people had communicated their willingness to become “die fliegenden Schachzettells”. It was to be part of a DSZ supplement. DSZ had 5000 subscribers and the “the flying chess notes” would get a wide coverage. Harald suggested a book may be possible later.

I sent some photos to Harald completing my membership of the flying brigade and I couldn’t help sending him the news of my purchase for the princely sum of $1 of ‘Play Chess 2” by Hartston and James. It had an eviction notice inside to the owner the unfortunate R. Wilson. He was given 5 days to vacate and to leave the keys in the ‘servery box’.

I mentioned to Bert that I liked smelling books and I told him that it was a wish to know of previous owners. Bert showed my views to his wife to convince her that the habit was not as weird as she thought – it failed. Bert’s daughter Odelia likes to join him in smelling the books and they joke about the strong flavours of some Russian language books… and then came his news of the move to London. What a move bookwise!

Everyone was on the move. John van Manen and Inge were off to Port Macquarie.

In 1977 I saw the great local history librarian of Newcastle, one Charlie Smith. And in 1989 he and his wife paid a visit to Narromine researching their book on the Smiths. In 1996 the penny dropped when I realised that Charlie’s book “Smiths of the Central West and Riverina” were the Smiths that the problemist and school inspector Frank Ravenscroft Smith belonged to! Small world and I put Charlie in contact with Enid, Frank’s daughter at Fernbank St Ives. I am sure she was suitably amazed as was I.

John van Manen’s translation of Harald Ballos’ Schach Zettell Tarrasch article appeared on the Internet in Hanon Russell’s website. Hanon and Ken Whyld also helped with the translation.  A fine article on a great early player.

A lovely letter from Harald revealed Jean and he in Vienna enjoying the town, and the restaurants and local antiquarian book stores. Jean made a real ‘trouvaille’ by finding a rarity.

It was amazing to hear of the collection of Pieter ten Cate being sold by L’Esprit and an offer of 1500DM being refused for the Braune problem item. Harald wanted me to join the net and have instant access to all chess enthusiasts. It is true that communication is a lot cheaper. I am still thinking about it (mid 1999).

Harald mentioned two books on Bibliomania published in the USA. The books are Nicholas Basbanes “A Gentle Madness, Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the eternal passion for books” Henry Holt and company, New York 1995 (ISBN 0-8050-3653-9) and Werner Muensterberger:-“Collecting. An Unruly Passion” Princeton University Press, 1994. One anecdote in the Princeton book about Bibliomane Thomas, an Englishman who married a rich woman just so he could collect and buy more books. Harald mentioned that he had a manuscript of Konrad von Ammenhusen once owned by Thomas with his sign in it.

Ah, that word again-Bibliomania. I don’t think I’m afflicted with it. Ken Whyld agreed that we both were not! I wonder if that is mutual support against the odds?

Ken Whyld found the reference to Purdy’s use of “A chield’s amang you takin notes” in Robbie Burns poem “On the late Captain Grose’s peregrinations thro’ Scotland” Line 5 in fact. So now we knew CJSP’s source. Ken also enlarged on William Harris (1813-1881) who had expressed dismay at the condition of Philidor’s grave in St James Churchyard Piccadilly. He had named one of his sons William Alfred Philidor Harris. 

It was time to do some research  and so when we went to Townsville in August 1996 I decided to kill off Mount Alekhine (Alkaline) once and for all. BCM December 1996 Q&Q contains all the details and a photo. It was great to get help from Government Departments and also Cherie Strickland of the Townsville Family History Society. Best of all was talking to residents around Mingela. And when it was all confirmed by the Queensland Department of Minerals and Energy Archives, that was just great. Yes, there was a lease called Mount Alekhine and it was near the mountain photographed which was not on the lease.

But what about the greatest Australian chess detective of them all-Ken Fraser. There he was at a birthday do on a Sunday in August tucking into a “..nice spread of coffee, cakes, scones, jam and cream when I noticed a rather ugly covered silver cup on top of a bookcase. When I lifted it down I was astonished to read the inscription:-

VICTORIAN CHESS AND DRAUGHTS CLUB

PRESIDENTS HANDICAP CUP 1885

It turned out to be the cup which William Tullidge won twice in 1887-1888. Because he won it twice he was allowed to keep it and it has been handed down in the family”. Ken gave the present owner Tullidge’s great grandson a copy of his article on the Victorian Chess Club and a copy of Tullidge’s chess record.

Bert Corneth was in London and he wrote:-“The most enjoyable activity for myself is of course the unpacking of all my chessbooks. In general they have survived the storage/transport very well. I only have two bookcases yet, but they already look impressive…I calculated I will have to buy at least four more bookcases and even then part of the modern books will have to stay in boxes”. Good on you Bert – he’d settled in.

Ken Whyld found James Crake’s birth year on the St Catherine’s indexes-1847, second quarter, at Morpeth (Northumberland). The problemist was almost fully revealed now.

Harald’s Schach Zettel column was giving him a “letter-tower on my table…”. And Harald exchanged books with Laszlo Polgar after a hard negotiation at the Bazaar”. He got Carlsbad 1911 and Prague 1943 to name some, Laszlo got CPC 1843-1856.

One of my main acquisitions were the Victor Keats trilogy on chess history. Beautiful books. And whilst in Townsville I found a lovely antiquarian store ‘Tonnoirs’ where a few chess books fell into my lap.

Correspondence started with Cathy Chua. She wanted to write the History of Australian Chess. More on that later. I started some minor research in the State Library of NSW and re-examined the catalogue of John van Manen’s collection sold to the library in 1962. That was embarrassing. I hadn’t realised John’s collection had been catalogued. But the goal was to build up on that find last year with Bert Corneth and see exactly what was in the catalogue. It was then realised that it was actually a combined catalogue of F L Vaughan’s and John’s collections and there were indeed some interesting books. No 350 was a beauty:-“Chess Photos etc collected by F L Vaughan” and it had some good ones:- David Przepiorka, Boris Kostich, Rudolf Spielmann at Margate 1938, Sultan Khan, Miss Fatima and Colonel Umar Hyat-Khan, a very young Spassky ca 1955, and the piece de resistance-an excellent photo of Cecil Purdy taken not long after he had won the First World Correspondence Chess Championship in 1953. He looked tired and relieved with the aerogram letter alongside him on the chess table. There were other photos of Frank Crowl and Max Fuller and then came Arthur Mailey’s chess cartoons.

I also noticed a very fine display of Matthew Flinders Chess Set in the library showcases in between the State and Mitchell library underground walkway near the restaurant.

It was great to hear from Bert that his collection had made leaps and bounds this year from bookfairs in London and around the region. It was indeed becoming a choice collection.

1997 – proved quite early to be a sad one. Robert McWilliam the great bookdealer for the BCPS passed on. He was well lauded by The Problemist but a close chess friend who had helped find out what happened to my father was gone. He was 77 and his last letter had arrived just after last Christmas. He lamented the fact that our grand border collie dog Biddy had not been replaced but gave the good news that his wife Lil and Ben their 5½ year old Corgi were in robust health.

Research with Cathy Chua took off during this year and John and I were able to help with some of her queries. She didn’t ask easy questions and made some original finds herself. One, “Essay and Studies” by W A Osborne 1946 was a find. I sent Ken Whyld a photo of the Flinders chessmen and he replied that an illustrated book about playing sets throughout the ages was needed. “We have plenty”, he wrote, “ about those decorative sets that were never anything but rich mens’ ornaments”. Ken also showed the usefulness of a scanner with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) when he ran copies of his 1956 work on the Christmas and Overbrook Series through the machine and after varying typefaces and styles came out a very modern reprint. A good item for any problemist or collector to have.

Norma and I did a second hand bookshop walk in Sydney in January. Very little chess but a pleasant walk anyway. An interesting book I got for my birthday from my daughter Penny was “The Chess Garden” by Brooks Hansen. She signed it “Happy Birthday White King Love Your Oldest Pawn”.

And Neville Ledger continued his research into Tasmanian chess by a visit to the great library in Melbourne. Ken Fraser was there to give support.

And John van Manen turned 75 on 21 February. I sent him “Australia at Yerevan”.

A chess video I’d been working on with a few chess tasks such as Mount Alekhine, Flinders Chess Set, Lewis Chessmen site in Uig and Ullapool Harbour and Stornoway, Kensall Green cemetery and the failed McDonnell/ de la Bourdonnais search, Lewis men in London and Edinburgh, Kew Cemetery Melbourne and John Wisker’s gravesite, and my library plus glorious Australian scenery went to Ken Whyld and Jim Jones.

Bert wrote enthusiastically about his latest chess doings:-“Whenever time permits I try to attend book fairs. Apart from buying something, I make many contacts also. Recently the lady who sold me Bairds 700 ch problems contacted me offering Forbes “The History of Chess” (1860) for £50. I bought it, it was a nice copy, previously from a library on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Last month I spotted the only (and lonely) ch book in a second hand shop. I am practicing my skills in spotting books inside a shop. It was an early Staunton’s Chess Practice for £10, good condition. Sometimes it is like treasure hunting…” Bert also sent more photos of his bookshelves.

I was amazed by Caissa Books 1996/7 catalogue that contained many Philidors. There was page upon page of antiquarian chess books. One of the finest catalogues of recent years. Were the Philidor’s from the Monsieur X sale ?

Ken Whyld liked the video and sent me a map of Kensall Green so that I could work out where I was in relation to the two graves. Well, I never got close to McDonnell but I must have been within a chessboard of de la Bourdonnais because that was exactly where some workers were I was talking with. Ken writes:-“…About 10 years ago David Hooper paid for the two stones to be raised above ground level and cleaned, so they should have been visible. The Staunton Society is trying to have their heroes grave, also in this cemetery, restored, but I believe it is just grass at the moment…”.  Well, that was a body blow-I’d missed Staunton’s grave also. I don’t think I ever knew the great man was buried with the titans.

On the way back through Mount Victoria we stopped at the bookshop again and found more Christmas Series books there. Six of them and Dorothy Quin said that she had had them 10 years. These were Fred Hawes as well. I could not work out what was going on as in 1995 they were not on the shelves. Dorothy was selling the shop and as none of the books were signed I did not buy them. There were tell-tale signs of Hawes though in them.

Jacob Feenstra sent a further small list from Waitati in New Zealand. It was good to see he was still operating.

Jean Mennerat wrote in April. He had been lucky when lightning hit his home and the computer he was working on. And his humour was Ok:-“ ..Yes, you are right: old books are odoriferous, especially in the case of mouldiness and tobacco! Concerning the books there was recently in Amsterdam an auction for the library of the late Justus de Hooge a collector I met sometimes. I didn’t buy anything. I have the catalogue of his library on my shelves and I knew that the interesting items have been sold before the auction. To whom? I don’t know….”

Harald was elected President of the Vereinigte Schachgesellschaft 1880 Offenbach/M and then onto the directorial board of the Hessische Schachverband. He was the Schriftfuhrer, a type of secretary and his work was very busy too and he had now taken in a medical practitioner partner.

An interesting letter exchange took place with Neil Stratford of the British Museum about the new Lewis Chessmen book. I was hopeful the Museum might agree to carbon dating of these pieces that H J R Murray thought might be much later than 12th century. But no luck on that front.

And a challenge I offered in The Problemist to solve a help game was taken up with relish by Frank Moralee and C Frankiss who blitzed me. 39 moves was just too good for this Aussie. (See R262 in May 97 Problemist)

Bert weighed in late July with his latest foray into antiques fairs where they saw a ‘Statu Quo’ Travel Chess Set with tiny ivory pieces for £250 and a genuine Staunton boxwood and ebony set in the box with “signature” £850. Bert did not buy. On his trip to Stirling in Scotland he had talked with a book shop owner about “The Life of Sir Joseph Banks” by Smith and how difficult it was to find these days. Bert was kindly looking out for my want. He also enclosed a chapter from a book “Solitary Life” by Richard Katz (translated from the German “Einsames Leben” 1958) with a lovely chapter on chess in Locarno. And Neville Ledger passed onto Bert the address of  the son of M Blainc who had a fine collection and Bert managed to take over a dozen older works including a 1777 Philidor. It was lovely to read of this mutual cooperation. Bert’s progress on the Dutch Chess Bibliography continued.

Another article sent by Cathy Chua was “Flyping an old Victorian”. The verb “to flype” means to strip back or reveal. The subject was Alexander George McCombe of Chess Frauds fame but the article concentrates on his non chess business ventures. He was brave no doubt about that. Written by Victorian Justice R Tadgell, it reads very well indeed and was finished in September 1996.

I again raised the Lewis pieces with Ken Whyld in August and suggested that as the pieces were not pristine they were clearly playing pieces. And four sets? Perhaps from a group such as the “old soldiers of Uig” who were veterans of Napoleon’s Grand Army. Some were blind and maybe the pieces were whittled

or scrimshawed in their distinctive shapes for those of poor eyesight. There was even a battle with Lord Seaforth at Ardroil which is very close indeed to where the chessmen were found. James Shaw Grant had more to say about this struggle in his book “Discovering Lewis and Harris” 1987 and whilst certainly not suggesting the above hypothesis he does affirm the 12th century date and at the same time answer the question often asked:-“How (did) the chessmen get to the remote Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides?” and his answer was that it was obvious to anyone “ who does not suffer from London blindness”. The Hebrides were under Scandinavian domination and the chessmen were just a biproduct of the busy trade route between Scandinavia and the Viking city of Dublin. All very reasonable.

Ken responded:-“… we must look at the hoard as a whole…. The pieces cannot be a merchant’s stock because of evidence of use….where did they come from, and where were they going? This last is not a new question of course, but the first. There is evidence that men were carved on the West coast of Scotland at around that time…..Your theory is interesting, and perhaps worth following up. But you have to ask where Napoleon’s veterans acquired the pieces…” In a later letter he wrote:-“…If the men were carved in the 12th century what were they doing until they were buried in the 17th century? If the legend of them having been buried then is wrong, is it feasible that they could have been buried for 600+ years? From your video evidence it seems to me that the location of the find is too far from the coast for the pieces to have been exposed by the sea….”

My video evidence MAY clash with the site where the men were found given in Neil Stratford’s book. I wrote to the Uig historians to try to clarify this but they did not reply. My source was the grand old lady Mrs Matheison and a farmer at the site who both confirmed the area. They differed on which mound. And, answering Ken’s question about where Napoleon’s veterans acquired the pieces. My answer to that is they carved them from walrus ivory on the Island to pass the time away.

I’m not all that enamoured about my theory but if H J R Murray questioned the date of 12th century three times then that’s good enough for me. If he thought they were carved later than the 12th  century, it should be investigated. Museums are not static places – or they shouldn’t be. Research should continue when science offers new ways of dating valuable relics. The Naples Museum did it with the Venafro pieces so should the British Museum.

Ken Fraser had some minor health problems which were resolved and when the stock market got the jitters in October when it was approaching the 10th anniversary of “Black October” he made page 8 of the prominent Melbourne newspaper “The Age” with a photo and small item about his share purchase as the market dropped. Nice photo of him too!

John Beasley, the keeper of the British Chess Problem Society library suggested a scenario for the Fred Hawes Christmas Series turning up 32 years after his death:-“ I can well believe that a family could have held on to books for over 20 years and then sold them off. The effects of the deceased relative are sorted (and even this takes time) and any apparently valuable items not wanted by family or friends are put to one side, with the intention that they be sold when a suitable purchaser has been contacted. But it doesn’t get done straight away, and then it gets forgotten. Eventually, N years later, somebody does something, with results such as you have described. As regards the shelving policies of second-hand bookshops, have you ever tried keeping a stock of 10,000 items in order? It’s bad enough trying to keep track of a library of 1000…” Yes, that’s all fair comment.

Jean Mennerat completed the translation of the Anderssen obituary in La Strategie p.l0l April/May 1879 by Ernst  Falkbeer. An excellent job and forwarded on to Robert Johnson for his proposed book on the great German.

The year finished with a letter to Ken Whyld on the Lewis chessmen about the powerful looking queens. They looked to me like they exuded commands and were post 1475 AD Queens. Of course Murray wrote about very early chess queens in England but with that ‘stare’ those queens had authority or so I thought.

A tragic end to the year for Australian chess with Terrey Shaw’s passing at 51 from prostate and the demise of the Australian Chess Magazine and  Arthur Willmott’s problem magazine .

1998 – And then came John Rather’s Catalogue via Nigel Nettheim who sent it to me with his Christmas Card. No 121 was the Overbrook set “A Sketchbook of American Chess Problematists” and I bid for it. I was on tenterhooks. It was a fine problem catalogue.

John Rather wrote in mid January:-“..the items came from various sources and are the accumulation of more years than I like to remember. As you may judge quite a few belonged to Vincent Eaton who sold them shortly before his death in 1962 to a friend of mine who later sold them to me. The Christmas Series and “A Sketchbook…” were bought at three different auctions in the last couple of years.

As an aside you may be interested in the fact that I knew Eaton at the Library of Congress where I worked from 1952-54. We played once in a Washington Chess League match but, alas, he beat me. The morning I returned to work again at the Library in January 1962 we met while parking our cars on the same one-block street. He died about two months later...."

This list 97-B went well for John thanks mostly to a Netherlands client. But item 121 was still available and he sent me a pro forma invoice for it. So the quest started so many years ago was over, “A Sketchbook…”! (2 vols) ($310US) was finally coming down under. That left only “A Chess Silhouette” to get and that is the situation as I retype this on 22 September 1999.

I had always thought that this would be the only copy in Australia but on checking, my late friend Brian Tomson, Professor of English at Newcastle University Australia had bought one decades before. I saw it in the rare books room of the University Library in 1997. That was an interesting visit. I had to properly run a gauntlet to prove I knew Brian before I could see the collection. Whilst I was amused at the time and possibly also a little annoyed I think now that it was fair enough. The Archivist and myself hit a deal that I would provide more biographical information on Brian and a photo and they would provide a catalogue copy. The deal was completed. The Archivist knew more about Brian’s academic qualifications than I did. I took a punt that Brian got his Masters at Brasenose College Oxford and the Archivist told me that I was wrong and that he’d got it at Trinity College Dublin. He took his PhD at Oxford. But the Archivist could see I did know Brian as would be expected after 11 years of correspondence. Even today I look warmly at those letters and the information Brian gave me which enabled me to learn a lot more. Brian died in 1986 aged 44.

Ken Whyld took up my comments about the Lewis men and mentioned the views of Michael Mark, who was very much in the Neil Stratford camp:-“…carbon dating would only give us an approximate period for the raw material. If it showed likely 15th century date for the tusks, for example, the span of possibility would not perhaps exclude the 12th century, and would not prove when the men were carved…The important paper by D le R Bird in “The Chess Collector” July 1996, about the irregular marks on some of the pieces which he attributes to Murram grass. If Bird is right, that would require a burial of a lengthy period…”

Another Catalogue from Jacob Feenstra showed that all was well in the shaky isles. I bought a Dutch Weenink from him for John van Manen’s birthday.

John Rather responded that the cheque had arrived and that “A Sketchbook… ” was launched onto the Pacific Ocean on the 9th February. John also advised of the wartime reprint of “A Chess Silhouette” and that he’d had two copies in the last 7 years. He knew nothing of the number of reprints nor the date. There were 150 copies of the original printing and as John surmised:-“Given the specialised and sophisticated nature of the book…it seems quixotic to have produced additional copies to be passed out blind in a situation that was statistically unlikely to allow many (if any) proper matches..” Fair enough – the only possible positives of the reprint were that there may well have been problem enthusiasts in the armed services during the war years and a few more converts to the gentle art produced, by having the book.  

I was pleased to get from Bert a few copies of Kagan’s magazine “neuste Schachnachrichten”. A beautiful magazine – but I couldn’t read it – and maybe I will do something about that when I retire. But one can still appreciate the choice Jan/March 1926 issue with excellent and rare photographs. There was even some brief Australian news. I sent a copy of Cathy Chua’s “Australian Chess at the Top” to Bert. This book filled a yawning gap in the chess history of Australia and its top players.

My son John bought me “Extreme Chess” for my 58th. A vicious CD that has humbled me in front of the family. They have been delighted – and I philosophical . I hate to write this but I still have to record a victory against this aggressive opponent.

From Time Books Melbourne came “15 Games and their Stories” by Mikhail Botvinnik. A humourous book with Botvinnik in witty mode. Worth buying.

On the 15th of June “A Sketchbook…” arrived – well packed and sound. I was quite surprised at the small size but the two volumes (17 x 12cm) were in a nice slip case and the contents were principally historical. My kind of book. One to go.

Ken Whyld wrote about his meeting in Vienna with Ned Munger at the Chess Collectors International gathering. Ned was emeritus professor of humanities at Caltec and Ken found him a most interesting man. Later I was to agree when he rang me twice and talked about his next project which included Australian chess sets. The book Vol. 3 on Asian and the Pacific rim sets will be nice to see. Did chess reflect local culture? Ned has spent his life proving that and his collection must be one of the world’s best. The first two volumes are great.

I was saddened to hear that Ken’s dear friend David Hooper had died in May and I sent a copy of Cathy’s book to him to help him forget.

Another pleasure was to receive Brian Thew’s thesis on Australians at Correspondence Chess Play. A nice job and he got a distinction I think in his teaching course.

Barrie Ellen’s Catalogue 48 came in and I bid for 3 items but no luck. The local collectors are voracious.

I was pleased to read that Bert had contacted Barrie and that two major history works had come into his collection, the 1913 Murray and the 1874 van der Linde. Very good buying indeed by Bert. He was playing some chess and enjoying it. His game in the semi-final of the Lensbury Club Championship was proof enough. I suggested to Bert that a good way of improving one’s collection was by gathering historical chess photographs out of periodicals and columns.

Barrie’s Catalogue No 49 arrived in October. Again I missed three items.

1999-     Bert wrote of his successful year and charming finds in dusty bookshops off the beaten track. He continued:-“ It is especially these occasions that make collecting so enjoyable. Probably the most lovely little gem from the past year is the..official cardboard folding chessboard from one of the simultaneous performances of Alekhine in 1937, organised by the Dutch broadcasting association AVRO, in the run-up to the return match Euwe vs Alekhine later that year…It contains a real signature of Alekhine (“A Aljechin”, as the player of the white pieces), of Mr F Jongkind who had been his opponent at this board, and of the chairman of the AVRO in those days. Each contestant got one of these boards, on which the game was to be recorded as well. This particular one will not go into history as a brilliancy. Mr Jongkind lost a pawn in the opening and his handwriting became more and more messy as he carried on far too long in a hopeless position. (I probably would have done the same to minimise personal embarrassment) The owner of the shop in Maastricht where I found it was apparently not aware of what it was, and I only shouted “Hoera” after I paid him the equivalent of £10 and had stepped outside the door.

Another little treasure was a very nice specimen of Cheron’s famous “La fin de partie” from 1952, which I found in an old bookshop in Gent, Belgium, when my family and I made a walk through the beautiful historic parts of the town. We got lost and suddenly there was this dark bookshop. Regina did not believe this of course, and thought it was a cunningly planned sidetrack, but believe me gentlemen: it was pure coincidence.

Unfortunately these instances become more and more rare. Not only is the value of old chessbooks more and more recognised, but also my work makes it impossible to go “hunting”. Prospects for next year are not better…”

Another great letter from the Dutch humourist. Sure, Bert, we knew you got lost in Gent even if Regina didn’t.

The new BCPS bookman sent a meaty catalogue of books and an unusual postal auction in which I bid for three items. I wished him a long and happy reign as the “bookman”-Peter Fayers of 2 Beechwood Avenue Coulsdon Surrey CR5 2PA is his address.

Jacob Feenstra’s latest arrived in March and I got the Petzold “Schach Eine Kulturgeschichte” 1986 and Schuyer’s “Het Schaakspel” 1958 – German and Dutch but great books. His address is 10 Ree Street Wellington 9060 Otago New Zealand. I was pleased to read (as best I can!) Schuyer’s tribute to Dr Niemeijer.

And Peter Fayers sent me “70 More Chess Problems” by Locock and Abbott’s problems. The first had Robert McWilliam’s pressed bookplate and the second was signed by Abbott. Both for £20. Lovely books.

In April Ken Fraser wrote about “Morphy’s Match Games” by C M Stanley which was part of C G M Shoppee’s collection that came to the library in 1988. The book contained an old Melbourne Bitter beer label with the back inscribed “Mick, all the best for Christmas and New Year” from Eric C Cohen. Ken asked me if I knew who Cohen was but I didn’t know. Shoppee had the book at least from 1935. A rare item.

In June Harald Ballo wrote about his excellent research into Auguste d’Orville the 19th century problemist. Hopefully this will be published as there is much that is new. I sent him a copy of Cathy Chua’s 1998 “Australian Chess at the Top”.

Ken Whyld advised he had Sir Frederick Madden’s original 1832 paper on the Lewis Chessmen bound in calf with gilt titles and wrote that it was “Much more pleasant to read than the reprint. Spacious-excellent engravings etc” Yes, the old books are nice.

And a letter from Bert in July telling of his move to Holland with the family. Work has been tough for him since he left Brunei with constant shifts.

And in September Jacob Feenstra sent another Catalogue 99/2 in which the gem was 24 years of New Zealand Chess from Volume 1 1975 – 1998 bound in 4 volumes for the first 15 years-$400. I did not bid for it.

Bert wrote 2/10/99:-“.. Just after I came back to the Netherlands, I managed to find a couple of nice specimens from the Christmas Series, among which “Les tours de force sut l’echiquier” and “More white rooks” However a couple of days before I left the UK, there was an auction in Swindon, and one lot (number 586) was about chess: 36 different books from the Christmas series in excellent condition!! I could not attend and given circumstances my distant bid was not so high and in the end not high enough. Here in the Netherlands old English language books in general are rather uncommon, and Christmas series books you will hardly ever see here..”.

And one wonders who owned that set of 36.

I sent off “A Letter to Bert” to Peter Fayers in mid October and it is now for sale on disc with John Gallant’s excellent bibliography of chess problem books. Peter wrote in the November Problemist, “ ..any member is invited to write back with updates - more information, new people, new titles and I will add them to the two works which will hopefully grow to be even more comprehensive.”

Jacob Feenstra sent me Kipping’s “300 Chess  Problems” and Hans Ree’s “In de eerste stoot pat” which I passed onto JvM as a Greek Gift!

Ken Whyld sent ‘Medieval Wager Compositions’ and ‘Chess Texts in the English Language printed earlier than 1850’. There was no stopping him and the latter created especial interest here in our attempts to get an Australian chess book into that catalogue. To date I don’t think we have. Ken also wrote of Michael Mark’s impressive file of photocopied material from HJRM’s Bodleian letters and of his daughter Abigail’s impending work trip to Australia. I mentioned this to Ken Fraser and he decided to help with the pre 1850 Catalogue as it was an area dear to his heart. Myself, also in a smaller way.

In December came Bert’s annual library update -another 56 volumes plus more years of Tijdschrift came his way.

And so the decade ended as did work for me. I retired on 28 January 2000, my 60th birthday. Work was becoming stressful, time to make way for younger brains!

2000 -  Ken Whyld’s January letter revealed that others were interested in his pre 1850 Catalogue. Ken Fraser discovered a wonderful addition, “The game at chesse a metaphoricall discourse shewing the present estate of this kingdome. The kings, the queenes, the bishops, the knights, the rookes, the pawns. The knights signifie the high Court of Parliament; the rookes, the cavaleers” 1643 attributed to William Cartwright (1611-1643). I was very pleased to get a photocopy from KF. With it he included some early references to chess in Australia in “The French consul’s wife-memoirs of Celeste de Chabrillon in gold-rush Australia” pointed out to him by Sue Healey of the State Library of Victoria. Not a candidate for KW’s pre 1850 catalogue as a little later.

Jacob Fenstra wrote me in February for “spare copies of Chess World”. I wasn’t able to help but it was amazing how this magazine had become hard to buy. There were ‘bucketloads’ of Purdy’s famous magazine a decade or so ago. Time has caught up with it as Purdy’s reputation has grown through the ‘Thinkers Press’ series in the USA. I was pleased to get some rare New Zealand items from Jacob’s catalogue.

Ned Munger, Emeritus Professor of Caltec, sent me Volume 3 of “Chess, Culture and Art-The Pacific Rim” as a gift from this generous American. I had helped him a little, and he only has Volume 4 to go to complete a unique series.

Bert by now, had settled back in Holland near Leiden and was “looking forward to seeing my books again after 6 months in a container” .Was this to be the last move for chess knight errant? Time will tell.

In April came some very bad news. JvM was nearly blind. What to do? He was back and forth for tests and operations in Sydney. Best to wait and hope. I prepared an audio tape for him. It did not arrive in time.

KF meanwhile, scored another find with chess in Ireland 1,100 years ago. It is all in BCM of Feb 2001, Quotes and Queries. He was enjoying helping with that pre 1850 Catalogue.

Roger Noble of Hull weighed in with a very fine article on Alfred Crosskill (1829-1904)-industrialist, alderman and Chief Magistrate of Beverley. Roger knew that Crosskill was a chess lover and strong player and that he had written under the pseudonym “Euclid”. The book being “The Chess Ending-King and Queen against a King and Rook”. Roger had a copy and his article brought Crosskill to the chess public for the first time. Well done Roger. 

Norma and I made plans to go to Port Macquarie to see JvM. And then came the terrible news. He was gone and passed away 20 May. We went to the funeral on 23 May and met the family. It was a relief for them as they didn’t wish him to suffer. KF was there too, and tributes appeared in the Herald, Australian, Sun-Herald and later the national chess magazine Australian Chess Forum. Inge, his wife, was to remain in their lovely unit in St Agnes Retirement Village overlooking the school playgrounds and as I write this, she is well. The greatest ‘chess data collector’, as he preferred to be called rather than ‘historian’ was gone and a large chunk of my chess life also. I catalogued his books for sale with his son Frank and the lists went out to various dealers. It was sad to drive away a week or so later after seeing Inge. There would be no more letters from the active chess mind of my late friend JvM.

We called at Newcastle University Auchmuty Library on the way home to give a copy of KW’s latest pre 1850 list to the Archivist John di Gravio who had expressed interest in it. He kindly photocopied Richmann’s Chess Bibliography for me and I had another inspection of Brian Tomson’s chess library in their Special Collection. Onto Sydney where a few days later I met Clive Lane the new antiquarian chess book dealer. We had a coffee together and a look at his books. I gave him JvM’s “A Letter to Bert” which my friend had been unable to comment on, and he gave me “Spielmann” by Spence, a nice item. Clive, trading as FISCHERBOOKS 1 Hereford Street Glebe NSW 2037 Australia, has a website at http://web.one.net.au/~clivelane. His email: clivelane@one.net.au  He lives in a nice two storey terrace and his library and workroom are upstairs.

Bert’s study room and library with his seven bookcases most filled with chess was now set up. He has room for an eighth bookcase:-”..In general my interest is shifting to the older works, and so far I found a few sources so far for works in decent condition.....one very nice item that so far I managed to secure in the UK is the famous (at least for me) “Chess Studies or Endings of Games” by Kling and Horwitz 1851. Beautiful in its gilt stamped decorated cloth, only very slightly faded. Never before had I seen a copy or heard of one for sale. I only had the Olms reprint of the 1889 Horwitz and Kling revised by Rev. W. Wayte and in the (1989) introduction it says:-”The Chess Studies” soon became an extremely scarce book. So it was a pleasant surprise when I was offered one, for a very reasonable price.... Good for you Bert.

Has anyone looked at http://www.findagrave.com/  ?? If you do you can see Morphy’s grave in New Orleans.

The MVA received another donation of chess books from Malcolm Broun, barrister and chess prodigy of the 1950’s.

Research started with KF on a fact finding biography of Frederick Karl Esling (1860-1955), Australia’s first chess champion and his opponent George Hatfeild Dingley Gossip (1840-1907). We were also reassessing the latter. He had a hand in 11 chess books, was a very active player in England, Australia and America. Perhaps his past chess press was far too harsh.

John Beasley sent me “More Flights of Fancy”- a lovely item that made me order “Flights of Fancy” 1989 by him from the BCPS. It arrived post haste thanks to Peter Fayers. Another choice item.

KF completed the recataloguing of the MVA chess collection. It had taken 7.5 years and as he was a volunteer, that has to be one great labour of love to the State Library of Victoria and chess players in Australia. He was playing chess too with his 6 year old honorary grandson in the MVA room.

In September the excellent TV series “The Romans in Britain” appeared and mention was made of gaming boards found on Hadrians Wall. Lindsay Allason-Jones of Newcastle University responded to my letter but there were no new finds. I live in hope of the Romans playing chess! He included an extract from his book “Women in Roman Britain”-the chapter 7 ‘Entertainment and Recreation’ contains this quote from Ovid that all women should include games of chance among their skills of seduction. I sent Lindsay a postcard from the Australian city of Newcastle.

Bert mentioned that:-” The problem book by Mackenzie is a rare item. Recently a copy was offered for sale in the UK for £250. Edges soiled and rubbed and some other imperfections” I told him about the Olympics and the success of the two Dutch swimming stars Peter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruin and what good ambassadors they were for the Netherlands.

John Beasley sent a disc of Golombek’s library and the BCPS holdings. What treasures they both contained! I sent John info on the active chess columns in Australia that I knew about.

A local chess club was underway in the city down the road - Dubbo. Two brave souls, Sandy Aich and Trevor Bemrose were the leading lights. I invited them out for a Dubbo vs Bush bash but two of my team didn’t make it. Good to hear the clinking of chess pieces in our kitchen as 6 players moved the men around. Trevor certainly moved his better than I did!  But our young star Gareth Manson of Trangie  who finished near the top of the State in mathematics won off Sandy and so the honours were even. It’s been too long between clinks!

Sydney in October/November saw more research on Esling and a long look at the websites for 1. The Hague, 2. Cleveland, 3. Melbourne chess collections. I took swags of photocopies. The websites follow and are recommended viewing:-

1.http://webopc.konbib.nl/kb/vak/schaak/intro-en.html

2.http://www.cpl.org/010012/chess/index.html

3.http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/slv/chess/  

The best? Well, I vote for the Hague because of its clik-on photos. Doubtful I’ll get there and so this gives an opportunbity to see it. Cleveland was thicker and more detailed and very enjoyable. Some photos of the library would make it No.1. Melbourne’s website started in October and is quite small.

KW’s Yuletide greeting  was the “Address and Reply to the Automaton Chess Player” after a visit by the Turk to the USA in 1826. He was moving to Kirton Lindsey above Gainsborough not far from his old home in Lincoln. I sent him “A Bit of Gossip about Esling”.

And a Christmas present from Jacob Feenstra in NZ were the two Morphy books that had been on my wants list for years. The Maroczy and Cunnington, Morphys.

Fairly priced at $150 and $10.

It was nice to get a copy of “Grapevine” the State Library of Victoria bulletin thanking KF for his sterling voluntary work.

2001 - A Christmas card from Bert-all was well there. I told him of the library websites and the Morphy book buys.

“A Letter to Bert” is to go on Brian Stephenson’s website. Hopefully more will see it there and contribute. John Beasley had placed a hard copy in the BCPS library with some type corrections and additions (thanks John). He too expressed the view that the British Museum should carbon date the Lewis chessmen. We live in hope. The amazing problem book “Cyclone” by Peter Gvozdjak came my way from Peter via the BCPS. Truly very quick receipt. Peter has drawings by his two young daughters as highlights. A very fine modern chess book in hard cover and reasonably priced at £20.

Barrie Ellen sent me the 1891 “Chess Players Manual” by Gossip and Lipschutz (USA edition) and the “Catalogue of the Ernst Boehlen Chess Set Collection” which made £130,000 to item 101 at the Phillip’s auction 9 Nov 1998. Lovely catalogue and one can look if one can’t afford to buy!

Early in March the NSW chess champion John Paul Wallace came to Dubbo for the Dubbo Open (which he won) and he played a 5 game simul in which I took a board. A very friendly young man who let me play another game after a very quick win to him. The second, sadly, was not much longer. I enjoyed talking with him afterwards about Australia’s chess history. He was a coup for Sandy Aich and Tevor Bemrose to bring to Dubbo and I think it is over 34 years since a strong player (Purdy) was in that city. I could be wrong.

And lastly, will I be successful in Jacob’s “30% off” sale? I’ll soon know.

And that’s the current state of play…..Happy reading and may it bring some pleasure to all.