Tuesday, December 27, 2011

CHESS SETS AND THE SATISFIED CUSTOMER

I've been online for a while this afternoon looking for resellers in Germany who answer their emails and might want to do business. It's not easy to find them. Looks like the Big Boys scare them off.

I noticed that almost EVERYBODY and THEIR BROTHER are selling chess sets! I had thought about getting into that in 2012 and now I am not so sure. Here's a few reasons:

1) Perfection by a couple companies is viewed as "the only way." I'm sorry to tell these geniuses that while they are copying old designs, the old designs weren't perfectly produced and yet they were great to actually USE! Now the NEW ones are supposedly perfectly rounded, tapered, rolled, carved, etc. B.S. One reviewer of "perfection" found flaws and who is the reviewer? A chess set Nobody (I know the guy).

2) I know of only one designer of "perfect" sets and they were cut in Delrin, a DuPont plastic which is so hard a blow with it would wipe you out. Why is it perfect? Because he was a first class programmer who knew how to tool and die and have the right sharpening and cutting tools. I've handle the pieces and while no longer made, I waited too long to get one. Makes the word "gorgeous" seem inadequate. When you go into wood you can do quite well, but perfect, probably not.

3) One designer and chess set pattern maker had a gorgeous description written up years ago about how he fiddled with this, fiddled with that, etc. I am sure he did. He also had his plastic pieces made outside the USA. Within no time the weights started rattling even though they were guaranteed NOT TO. He's still in business, maybe making betters sets. I notice he does know how to raise the prices, so let's hope so. If you are around a while you hopefully learn something. He writes well, of that I agree, but after all these years I can read between the lines and notice what ISN'T said as well as what IS.

4) Most hide where their pieces are made. All the good stuff (I'll make one other exception, possibly Italy) is made in India. The mediocre stuff is made in Poland, Germany, and lord knows where else... probably Russia too, maybe shops in former Yugoslavia. There are a few places that have their own studios and carve their own men or lathe them (or both) and they DO know what they are doing, but it can take them awhile to make a set. Working on it hour after hour is mentally and physically fatiguing.

You see, chess set making is really, really, boring. After you've made a couple it gets really tiresome (many amateur wood carvers give up after one set)... hence the need for machine shop precision where the "tweaking" is done via software.

5) Here's another thing. Seems like 50 is the magic number. "Only 50 made!" Do you have ANY proof of that? It's like autographed baseball cards, equipment etc. Unless you know the star and you were on the spot when he was writing, that doesn't mean anything except to the manufacturer who I am 1000% positive would let you look at his records! (Right.) Some years ago Fischer's "signature" was on something and it was mentioned on ChessBase.com (unbelievable). One look, for a nano second, told me it was crazy. But those who have never seen Fischer's autograph might believe it. I owned Fischer autographs from different sources for many years, before forgeries became the norm. He even signed a "My 60 Memorable Games" book I had, in Denver, on the spot, on the stage. I could reproduce Fischer's autograph 100 times better than these bozos, so if you want a real Fischer's autograph, you better REALLY be certain. Fischer's was not that legible, so when you see something nice, neat, and nearly "printed," rest assured, you are going to lose dough.

In my possession is a huge collection of miniature sets (travel and analysis sets) and regulation size sets made out of all kinds of materials. I've just started selling them again. Sold a very nice one, locally, to the wife of a friend of mine. He went nuts and wrote me:

"Bob:
The last time I was at the shop, I couldn't help but look at some of the used sets you had. I told myself I'd come back and look them over more closely after the first of the year. But I figured I would be hardpressed to find anything in my price range, especially when the first one I picked up was a Jaques set. 
"Apparently the Mrs. was reading my mind. She got me a beautiful set complete with walnut box. Not that I need another set, I already have several wooden sets plus the plastic standbys, but nothing as nice as what I opened on Christmas Day. 
"Thanks for steering her in the right direction. 
"She now knows more about sets -- the different woods, the importance of being weighted, what a knight will tell you about the set, and the size of pieces -- than she ever thought she would.
"Those details mean a lot to a chess player. "
(name withheld)

Is he thrilled? Certainly. His wife also got to inspect the set on my premises. I even showed her other sets. My friend hadn't seen this one when he was in earlier, I brought it down especially for her.

It really does pay to know who you are dealing with. I've sold chess sets, the good stuff, since 1971 (Jaques, imported from a friend in Denmark). Though I have non-Staunton sets, I prefer the Staunton design. If you are interested in seeing some photos and getting my list (when it becomes available), let me know.

bob@thinkerspressinc.com

PS: I've had discussions with "knowledgeable" chess set people. Maybe a few of them have learned a lot since I had talked to them, but expensive ISN'T the criteria except, WHEN it is! I recall one set I sold for $2,500 and this guy calls me up, freaking out. He's an expert on Staunton sets and there was no way it was worth that! So I asked, "Well Mr. Smartypants, what should I be selling them for?" He said he had his (same brand as what I had) for $1,000. I said, "I'll take all you have!" I wasn't joking. And to make matters worse, he had NONE! (I know this guy, he was lying to me. Once he realized I would buy 5 or 10 at $1,000 each all of a sudden, they weren't for sale. My respect for him plummeted after that. You can't shine up bad character [referred to as polishing a turd.])

I think I might have another set which was exclusively made for B.H. Wood, the publisher, years ago, of Chess. This may be a faulty recollection however. I have sold this set a couple times, bought and resold, same set. My records indicate it was sold for $2,700. So even if I do not have that one (one of a kind), I have one or two copies which were made (I think they were made for him too, but a different color from the original), for $500 each if anyone is interested. This is called pedigree but the only word you have is mine. These things don't often come with papers so when I see sets (and I've seen these offered by several different "manufacturers") with certificates of authenticity, brass plated, plastic insets, etc. I crack up. Anyone with the right equipment can make this stuff.

On the other hand, if you JUST LIKE the darn thing, and you can afford it, don't worry about all that other crap, just get it! Use it. Store it on your mantel. Hide it in your underwear drawer. Just don't get too anal. All the great old sets look like they have been used, even museum sets. Expect to pay something for them. When I hear people bragging about their chess set collection and the first thing they drag out is one made of onyx (or marble) from Mexico I want to leave town.


BOB

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