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Van Leyden's Famous Painting

History of Courier Chess

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j The History of Courier Chess___
courier game - kurrier - renaissance - medieval - 8 by 12 - chess players - chess match - kurierschachspiel - chess variants - ancient chess

Jan de Braÿ, Haarlem, Netherlands, 1661

Courier chess was an extraordinarily long lived chess variant, spanning some 600 years, and bridging the transition between the medieval chess brought in from Arabia and the modern chess we still play today. But accounts of courier chess are few and scattered across the centuries. Here is a brief chronology of significant dates in the life of courier chess:

About 500 A.D. chess begins somewhere in Asia

822 Chess first enters Europe, through Spain.

1202 Wirnt von Gravenberg mentions courier chess in his Arthurian romance, Wigalois.

1300 Heinrich von Beringen mentions the courier game as an improvement on chess, in his great chess poem, Schachbuch.

1337 Kunrat von Ammenhausen describes a detailed account of courier chess in Constance (at the south-west corner of Germany, bordering Switzerland).

1497 The first known publication of the rules of modern chess: Repeticion de Amoresy Arte de Ajedrez by Luis Ramirez de Lucena, in Spain.

Chess Collectors Message 1508 Lucas van Leyden, at 14 years old, paints his famous portrayal of courier chess, which later finds its way to the Royal Museum of Berlin.

1616 Gustav Selenus witnesses courier chess in Ströbeck, Germany. He describes the rules of play in his Das Schack- oder König-Spiel (“Chess- or King-Game”). He also provides a sketch of elaborate figurative pieces (below).

1651 On May 13th, The village of Ströbeck, Germany is presented with a courier chess board and silver courier chess pieces by the Elector-Prince Frederick William of Brandenburg. The board remains in Ströbeck; the silver pieces are long gone.

1661 Jan de Braÿ, classic Dutch Artist in Haarlem, Netherlands, sketches a young man (possibly a self-portrait), sitting with chessmen strewn on a courier chess board (top of this page). Certain pieces, especially the pawns, show a strong resemblance to the pieces in van Leyden's painting of 1508.

1817 A man by the name of Langenstraß leaves a courier chess board in Ströbeck, Germany. It remains on display today at the Ströbeck chess museum.

1821 H. G. Albers from Lüneburg writes that courier chess is played in the Ströbeck area.

1825 Visitors to Ströbeck report that the game of courier chess has been forgotten there.

1831 Author and chess master William Lewis visits Ströbeck and reports "the Courier Game is now seldom played at Stroebeck". He describes the moves of the queen and bishop (the ancient moves), and notes that the pieces, man (sage) and fool (jester), are now both "state counselors".

1885 The First Harzer chess congress is held in Ströbeck. A courier chess match is included in the program.

1943 Van Leyden’s painting of courier chess is moved to an air-raid shelter

1945, March The Führer personally orders certain prized paintings be moved to safety outside of Berlin, van Leyden’s painting being among them.

1945 General Patton’s Third Army finds van Leyden’s painting among many treausures stashed 2000 feet underground in a salt mine. The painting is taken to National Gallery of Art in Washington Chess Collectors International ArticleD.C.

1948 The painting is returned to Germany, to The Haus der Kunst in Munich.

2009, March, an article appeared in The Chess Collector — the official magazine of Chess Collector International, discussing courier chess in detail, and referring to this new re-creation. You can download the full illustrated article (in PDF form) by clicking this link.

The Courier Chess Reproduction

I already purchased one of your sets and I love it!
It exceeded my expectations. I hope you can continue
producing these sets, you're doing a valuable service
making this extinct game available again.

________________________________________________ Jeff S. of Everett, Washington, USA

The complete set of 48 pieces stand between ¾ inch and 2 ¼ inches tall (1.8 ~ 6 cm), the same size of those depicted in van Leyden’s painting.
Hand crafted in Riverside, California, made of solid resin, steel reinforced where needed and hand detailed to recreate the 500-year-old painting as closely as possible.
They are felted for comfort in play, and protection of the board.
This copyrighted reproduction is available only through, selling as rickofricks on eBay.

Since the first production of in 2008, additional versions of the chessmen and board have been created. See the link below for currently available sets.

The board measures 19 ¾ by 13 ¾ inches; ½ inch thick (35 by 50 by 1.25 cm), just like the one depicted in van Leyden’s painting.
The playing surface is a photographic image of a fine hand-painted German beech wood replica – likely materials for van Leyden’s original subject. It is reproduced here fixed to sturdy fiberwood board (MDF).

A quality print, the same size as the original painting, is included (details below).

Further productions are being developed. Check our listings for fine brass sets and hand made boards.

The illustrated rule booklet clearly lays out the original rules of play with diagrams, pictures and explanations.

To see this and further Courier Chess listings, select the link below.


Any Questions?

Quality Print of Lucas van Leyden's Painting

Original size: The image is reproduced in the same size as the original painting:
10.6 x 13.8 inches (27 x 35 cm). Including the border, this print measures 12 x 18 inches (30.5 x 45.7 cm).

Restored: Scrapes and damages have been carefully removed, restoring this painting to its original beauty.

Fine quality: The image is finely detailed, printed with a glossy finish on a firm 10 point paper (about the thickness of a standard card stock).