Antique chess tables have an undeniable charm. Chess is just one of the many games that inspired antique game tables. These pieces are frequently finely crafted and feature remarkable details. You might have had a dedicated table for checkers and backgammon, too. But chess antiques have stood apart from other game tables for much of history. No wonder: chess is still considered the most elegant of traditional games.
What makes chess tables? Inlaid chess boards are crafted from materials like mahogany and ivory to create a custom surface. More recent vintage chess tables might even have built-in chess clocks.
While we increasingly move towards digital gaming and entertainment, board games still challenge, unite and entertain us. Before we dive into exploring the beauty and styles of these tables, we first will head back in time, all the way to the beginnings of chess.
A Note on Modern Chess Figures
Modern chess sets are all based on the figure design of 19th-century designer Jaques Staunton. But as we will see, chess existed long before the 19th century. Pre-Staunton chess sets are amongst the most treasured collectibles of chess aficionados. And while all chess players love to play on an Antique Staunton set, there is something magical about objects even older than that.
The chess tables you will see in our collection may occasionally have a removable top, but do not come with chess pieces, unless otherwise noted. It’s therefore good to imagine the tables both as potential sites for play, and, more importantly, as individually aesthetic objects that bring completely unique beauty to a space.
The Chess Evolution
Chess developed out of a traditional game in Asia, likely a game from India. This game, called chaturanga, dates back to 600 A.D. Other people argue the game’s origins are in China, as a game called XiangQi. Regardless, some version of chess spread through the Middle East, to Russia, and then Western Europe. In the 16th century, we arrived at the chess game we’d recognize today.
Still, until 1850 there was not a universal chess set! That’s after this Baroque Card Table and many other antique chess tables were designed and built. Worldwide, chess icons emerged and competed for the world champion title every year starting in 1886. Players from the Soviet Union and Russia dominated these competitions and held the title nearly every year from 1927-2006.
A Game for the Elite
Wherever you found chess at its start, it was often associated with royalty and high status. Prior to the romantic era of chess starting in the 1880s, chess in India and Persia was part of the courtly education for nobility.
Antique chess tables can evoke the game’s rich and dignified history. One of a kind, this Dutch Game Table with Desk from the 18th century has exquisite hand-laid marquetry and a triple flip-top desk. Brass detailing, cabriole legs, five drawers, and a velvet writing surface all add to complete this piece as a magnificent antique chess table.
Design Values in Neoclassical Antique Chess Tables
Chess spread through Europe alongside the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment in the late 18th century. Cultural values of the time centered on knowledge, independence, and human progress. Developments in artistry, academia, and aesthetic preference brought us to the Neoclassical movement. Broadly, this moment placed a high value on simplicity, symmetry, and classic details.
We can find delightful examples of chess tables from this time. They serve as historic time capsules for demonstrating the aesthetic preferences and style of Neoclassicism.
This Neoclassical Louis XVI Game Table dates back to 1780 and comes from southern Germany. The marquetry details align with the design values of this era. On top of all the reasons chess may have exploded in popularity throughout Europe, the game’s ability to adapt to changing artistic tastes may have contributed to its stronghold.
Chess in France
There are many defining phases of the Neoclassical furniture period, depending on which country or region you are examining. This Neoclassical Game Table was made in 1810-20s France, where the first unofficial national chess championship would not take place for another 60 years. This chess table proves itself as one made for a family home embracing the popularity of the game in France. Chess was played in nearly every café during this time. Voltaire, Robespierre, and Napoleon were among them, most often frequenting Café de la Régence.
Chess Tables for the Everyday
Worried you must be nobility to own a chessboard? Please do not let this discourage you! Chess is not just a rich man’s game, played atop expensive marble on antique chess tables with delicate pawns.
If you’re a fan of something slightly more modern, this Art Deco Side Table could serve as a magnificent chess table, even without an inlaid chess board. The sleek qualities of this piece allow you the freedom to adapt your own games atop the table.
In particular, the base of this table is of note. The three chrome-plated legs connect and come to resemble a chess piece. This table creatively references chess in a remarkably unique way without limiting its functionality.
Antique Chess Tables for Chess Lovers
A lover of chess? Then you understand the inspiration for this piece. It’s not only ready for playing at any moment but a tool for referencing chess in your interior design. This 19th Century Biedermeier Marquetry Chess Table stands on a central baluster column. The aesthetics of this table would complement gorgeous wooden or marble chess pieces resting atop it, ready for gameplay.
The marquetry work alone is stunning on the tabletop, in flawless restored condition. From every angle, you can spot beautiful wood grain that would tempt anyone to sit down and play a match.
Not a Chess Lover?
So maybe chess isn’t your game. Have no fear! Encourage community and laughter with an expandable game table. You could host anything from classics like chess and Scrabble to modern favorites, maybe Codenames or Settlers of Catan.
Hand-polished and maintained in great condition, this vintage 19th Century Ash Wood Game Table offers space for all the family games you can imagine. Get ready to put it away and the top downsizes for use in a hallway as a console table. Whether you’re hosting a party or encouraging gameplay, this antique table can adapt to your household needs.
Chess Tables Today: Have I Seen That on TV?
There are an abundance of ways to catch chess and game tables in popular media today. The most obvious, perhaps, is the popular Netflix drama series, The Queen’s Gambit. According to Netflix, 62 million households watched the series in 2020, in the first two weeks of its release alone, as we were all cooped up at home. Google searches for “chess” increased exponentially in October 2020, the month the series was released. There is a wonderful opportunity to find inspiration for your own home chess table by opening your laptop or turning in your TV. Ready to see what’s currently selling? Find options at Styylish.com and bring beloved worldwide history into your home.