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Checkmate! An Antique Indian Carved Ivory Chess Set

Pawns armed with either muskets or swords

Pawns armed with either muskets or swords.

The highlight of the Works of Art section of our April 2012 Fine Art Sale held in Exeter (Devon) was undoubtedly the sale of the early 19th century Indian carved ivory chess set. Consigned by a client living in the heart of Devon, it was discovered by Andrew Thomas of our Insurance Valuations Department It provided a chance for chess collectors' around the world to bid on an unusual and potentially rare chess set. After frantic bidding, the chess set finally realised £17,000

The ivory chess set represents the rise in power of the East India Company over the indigenous population. This struggle is depicted in the pawns who on one side are sword wielding Sepoys and on the other side are musket carrying infantrymen, hardly a fair fight! The remaining pieces are identical to both sides with only green stained bases differentiating the two.

The complete set on a sadeli inlaid board

The complete set on a sadeli inlaid board.

There is one other chess set that reflects this rise in British colonialism and that is the East India (John Company) chess set, which also depicts pawns with swords and muskets. However the major pieces are more elaborate with prince's riding in hodaws on the backs of elephants. They normally fetch £12,000-£16,000 at auction.


  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Fine Sale
  • Works of Art
  • 19th Century
  • Indian Carved Ivory Chess Set

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