Chess Archaeology HomeChess is a scientific game and its literature ought to be placed on the basis of the strictest truthfulness, which is the foundation of all scientific research.W. Steinitz

by Allan Savage, M.L.S., CC-IM

    This was the lecture given June 13, 1998 by CC-IM Allan Savage at the Thinkers’ Press Chess Festival held in Moline, Illinois.

    I am here to tell you that chess databases and playing programs are not the ultimate possession!  (As if you didn’t know!) Chess players and enthusiasts today are focused on the present – the latest international tournaments, up and coming super GMs, the latest wrinkle in opening theory.  But we must not forget that the present rapidly becomes the past.
    The history of our game is a literary one.  More books exist on chess than all other games combined.  These books exist in libraries, both public and private.  This is the legacy of our game – CAISSA’S LEGACY.  I am here to encourage you to explore it!
    Take this statement:
     “The preservation of accumulated knowledge is vital to those who come after.”
    This is not a quote from a librarian or a historian as you might think!  It is from one Garry Kasparov in his preface to the book Petrosian’s Legacy.  Kasparov was relating how strongly Petrosian had felt about communicating his knowledge to those who would follow him.
    My talk tonight will focus primarily on the three largest chess libraries in the world, and I will also mention a few others.
    The largest and most comprehensive collection is at the Cleveland Public Library in Cleveland, Ohio.  The John G. White Collection (chess and checkers) today has over 35,000 volumes and subscribes to 180 periodicals.  Roughly 15 different researchers visit each month (some local ones visit several times a week).  They receive about 10 inquiries by mail/month.
    I submit to you this library is a vastly under-utilized resource!  I implore you to visit it.  The stacks are closed for security reasons (thus you can’t browse), so you must request your items from the staff.  But do not be intimidated by this -- all materials are available for browsing in the reading room and the staff is very helpful.  And Cleveland has many unique items found no where else in the world!  Some materials are available via interlibrary loan.
    How did such a vast collection arise?  It arose out of the library of a single collector, John G. White (1845-1928).  He viewed chess literature as a educational vehicle where he could learn about other countries, cultures, and time periods.  Through chess he learned to read at least a little in 29 different languages!
    He had three major book collections: chess, folklore, and orientalia; but the chess collection was his most prized.  He aimed at bibliographic completeness!  All editions, all versions, all languages!  He inherited a sizeable chess collection from his father and then purchased the famous library of George Walker (in toto).  But this was the only complete library he bought, which, as you will see, is highly unusual for a major collector.  Then, over many years, he corresponded with dealers and other collectors worldwide to build his collection piece by piece.
    At his death in 1928, there were nearly 12,000 volumes on chess (5,000 titles), appraised at $300,000.  Most importantly, he left the rest of his estate ($275,000) as a trust fund to maintain and continue the collection.  In 1991, the value of that fund was $875,000 (which includes a $100,000 donation); at that time its projected yearly income was in excess of $36,000.  This is truly CAISSA’S LEGACY!!
    The collection now contains over 1,000 original manuscripts, scrapbooks of  about 2000 newspaper columns, thousands of volumes of chess periodicals, 40 large boxes of uncataloged chess problems, portrait and autograph collections, 57 incunabula (books printed before 1500) and over 100 chess sets.  While the trust fund stipulates no money can be used for acquiring chess sets, the library has obtained many by donation.  The recent exhibition of their complete chess set collection is documented in a published catalog.
    The chess collection at the Royal Library at the Hague, in the Netherlands, is a very close second in size (some estimates have it larger), but its surely not as comprehensive.  It, too, was formed from private collections: those of van der Linde (750 books in 1876) and Niemeijer (nearly 7000 books in 1948).
    Dr. Niemeijer (1902-1987) started collecting seriously in 1924 (encouraged and supported by a Mr. Oskam, chess promoter).  Niemeijer bought books frequently at auctions and also acquired many whole libraries, attaining 2400 volumes in 9 years!  By 1948 he had 7000 volumes and donated his collection to the Royal Library with the stipulation that they publish a catalog, which they did in 1955.  He had acquired about 25 complete libraries, which numbered from a few hundred to 4000 volumes (DeMotta of Brazil).  After donating his collection, Niemeijer continued to add rare older titles and the Library comprehensively acquired modern works.
    In an interview in NIC Magazine a year before his death, Niemeijer emphasized the importance of openness and accessibility of significant collections, a trait he shared with John G. White.  He would always welcome visitors into his home to see his library, when it was still housed there.  The chess collection at the Royal Library receives about 200 visitors a year, roughly the same as Cleveland.
    Niemeijer was always interested in trading with other collectors, especially those with major collections.  He defined a major collection as one with at least a few thousand books!  In that interview, he did mention another major collector named Meissenberg who had 10,000+ volumes; perhaps this is the next largest private collector behind Schmid.
    Niemeijer was also a problem composer (IM), who published 30 books on the subject and authored 600 problems.  He started the great Netherlands Problem Archives in1925, which has an excess of 50,000 problems today.
    The 3rd largest collection is private: GM Lothar Schmid’s is recognized by everyone as the largest personal collection in the world.  There is no catalog (!) for this collection housed in 7 rooms on the top 2 floors of his house in Bamberg, Germany.  The ground floor is taken by his publishing business (Karl May-Verlag) and his living quarters are on the 1st floor.  It is said that the collection looks chaotic, but Lothar knows where to find everything!
    He started collecting in the 1950s, when he was offered the library of Rogmann.  Since then he has bought over 50 other collections including that of Tarrasch!  His Incunabula is notorious:  It includes one of the 10 extant copies of Lucena (1497) and all eight editions of Damiano (1512-64).
    For those of you who don’t know, Schmid is one of the few double GMs: he won the great Dyckhoff Memorial CC tourney in 1956 and finished =2nd with O’Kelly behind Ragosin in the CC world championship of 1958.  His strongest OTB years were in the 1960s.  Furthermore, he is a famous International Arbiter, officiating at the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match, the 1978 Karpov-Kortchnoi match, and the 1992 Fischer-Spassky Match (and others).
    What is possibly the 4th largest collection in the world is probably unknown to all of you except our special guests from Australia.  The M. V. Anderson Collection, located at the State Library of Victoria in Australia contains approximately 12,000 volumes and more than 600 periodicals (70 current).  Started in 1918 and offered to the library in 1956 (1500 volumes). Anderson continued to build the collection and it stood at more than 6000 volumes at his death in 1966.  The library continues acquire everything on chess in English and major works in other languages.
    I would like to mention a few of the more important public collections in the USA.  I have prepared a handout for you on these, which you can pick up after the lecture.  Many of these are so-called “Special Collections” which are found in the Rare Book Rooms or separate facilities within larger libraries.  The May 1998 issue of Biblio has a nice article on some of the unique items in these collections.
The Cook and Spackmann Collections at Princeton University
    E.B. Cook (1830-1915) was the foremost American chess problemist of his day.  The collection is strong on 16th and 17th century books and US chess history in the 1800s.  It was acquired by Princeton in 1915.
    The Spackmann Collection is post-1915 and is concerned with chiefly with tournament books and bulletins.
Gladney Collection at Louisiana State University
    Portion of the personal collection of Frank Gladney, of Baton Rouge acquired in 1976.  It features a deep collection of material on Paul Morphy, which is probably the best anywhere.
Justice Collection at Colorado College
    Collection of Alfred Justice; acquired in 1957- gift by his son. Strong on 16th to 19th century works.  Includes an 1805 edition of Philidor, which is from Dolly Madison’s library.
Willing Collection at the Free Library in Philadelphia
    Large collection of Charles Willing (1872-1950).  A catalog of this collection exists.
Muir-Hoganauer Collection at the University of Louisville
    Established in 1971 by CC-IM Walter Muir based on a consignment, a friend’s collection, and part of his own collection.  500 items, but later will contain Muir’s entire collection.  Muir wanted as much public access as possible so books are split between the circulating collection and rare book room.  Yearly cash gift used for new books and general maintence.
    Not all current items are cataloged; Muir working on catalog of entire collection.  His pride is a complete run of BCM from 1881.
    Finally, let me conclude by encouraging you to consider building your own collection!  Most of you probably have a small collection already.  Of course, today few can afford to build a general collection that is comprehensive, but you CAN SPECIALIZE.  Pick a very small area that interests you and try to build that comprehensively!  Get on dealer’s mailing lists, browse used and antiquarian bookstores, get friendly with other collectors.

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