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The Courier Chess Set
– A Special Note to Collectors

To My Fellow Chess Collectors,

An unusual item like this Courier Chess set is sure to arouse a special interest among collectors – and a number of questions. It’s a good bet you’ve seen van Leyden’s famous painting in a number of books (it may be the most-printed image in the annals of chess history!) and you have heard of the historic “Courier Game” it displays. But, what of this Courier Chess “reproduction”? Who’s making it? What’s it made of? Is it rare? Will its material and value endure? How authentic a reproduction is it, really? This special letter to collectors is to fill in some answers to these important questions.

Who Makes It?

An unusual chess set like this could only come about from a serious devotee of chess and chess history. That’s me, Rick Knowlton, in Sarasota, Florida. My fascination with the wide world of chess began in my teenage years – back in 1971. Much later, in 2004, I began sourcing unusual chess sets from around the world, and began creating reproductions of otherwise unavailable sets. I enhanced my own collection,while offering some items for sale on eBay and on my website, Drawing on my years of study and on my library of chess history and chessmen, I was able to analyze van Leyden’s Courier Chess set, determine the forms and identities of the pieces, and create a clear and aesthetically engaging set – recreating van Leyden’s chessmen in painstaking detail.

The pieces are cast by a master craftsman in Riverside California, Les Memdell. Les has worked in every aspect of resin castings for over 40 years. At the peak of his industry, he had over 100 employees. Now, semi-retired, Les works at his own pace, taking on projects of special interest. He professes that with proper attention, each casting project reveals its own best use of materials and methodology. In the case of the Courier Chessmen, Les employs a pigmented polyester resin, selectively reinforced with steel (esp. the King and Jester in this set); and individual, flexible molds removed by fitted suction chambers – so that every piece is cast seamlessly.

I tooled the original models of the pieces myself (as detailed in my website, and Les created the molds from my original models. He casts the pieces and sends them to me, where I have each one inspected, leveled, painted, felted, finished with a protective coating, and packaged for shipping and presentation.

Is the Set Rare? Will It Be Rare?

In contrast to the world of large industries are cranking out “limited editions” of mass-produced “collectors’ items” overseas, the Courier Chess set is hand-crafted locally, on a small scale – naturally limited by the great care taken in producing every set. At the moment of this writing, only 71 sets have been produced – at an average rate of ten sets per year, since the first castings in December, 2008. There is no telling just how many sets will be produced – about 100?– but considering the limited capacity and uncertain longevity of our system, it is safe to bet that these sets will remain quite rare.

What About the Board?

It is most likely that the original board depicted in van Leyden’s painting was a piece of common wood from central Europe, painted with alternating red and plain squares, framed with a small ridge. In order to achieve the effect of such a board and yet remain within practicable means of production, I started with a plank of imported German beechwood – not so easy to come by in the U.S. I hand-painted the chess board design onto the beechwood in red enamel, then had that board professionally photographed. The photographic image was then set up for size and detail, with a dark wood-grain border. The image was then printed (by a game board manufacturer in Georgia, USA) onto adhesive sheets, with a durable, protective coating. The adhesive sheets are affixed to boards of MDF (fiberboard), which is finished with a dark painted edge and felt padding on the underside. The result, as you can see in the images at, is very similar to van Leyden’s original.

What Determines the Price?

We set the price for these sets based on what we need to keep producing them. Each set is hand-made, with considerable expense and attention. It is, in fact, a labor of love. As long as collectors show an interest, and as long as we are able, we will try to keep these available at reasonable prices. If you agree that a unique, carefully crafted production of chessmen from one of the most famous chess artworks of all time is a thing of special worth, then you will agree with us that the Courier Chess set is destined to be a prized collectors’ item for many years to come.

More Information?

If you call us on the phone, your call isn’t going to be routed to a virtual assistant in India. If you email us, we’re not going to send you a link to a FAQ sheet in cyberspace. We’re just folks who love chess sets as much as you do. So contact us any time and let us know your thoughts.

Phone: (1) (941) 922-7475
Email: (click here to the email form)

Thanks for your interest. If you have a chance, please do click around the pages of our website,, and do contact us with your thoughts and questions.

Rick Knowlton
March 18, 2016


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