The Cambridge University Chess Club Board: A good and presumably unique Victorian ebony, mother-of-pearl and coromandel inter-collegiate league or 'cuppers' trophy chess board by Jaques
Lot 330
The Cambridge University Chess Club Board: A good and presumably unique Victorian ebony, mother-of-pearl and coromandel inter-collegiate league or 'cuppers' trophy chess board by Jaques
£8,000 - 12,000
US$ 11,000 - 16,000

Lot Details
The Cambridge University Chess Club Board: A good and presumably unique Victorian ebony, mother-of-pearl and coromandel inter-collegiate league or 'cuppers' trophy chess board by Jaques The Cambridge University Chess Club Board: A good and presumably unique Victorian ebony, mother-of-pearl and coromandel inter-collegiate league or 'cuppers' trophy chess board by Jaques
The Cambridge University Chess Club Board: A good and presumably unique Victorian ebony, mother-of-pearl and coromandel inter-collegiate league or 'cuppers' trophy chess board by Jaques
The large ebony and mother-of-pearl squares with a border decorated with 'silver' stringing, the deep coromandel frame with countersunk metal corner bands and bearing a silver shield for each year from 1890 until 1960/61 (barring the war years 1916-1918 and 1939-1945), including a plaque for Peterhouse 1892 engraved with the names H. E. Atkins, A. E. Daniels, L. W. P. Lewis, J. Wilson, D. A. W. English, H. Bell, and another for Kings College, 1930/31, engraved with the names C. H. O. D. Alexander, A. R. H. MacDonald, J. H. Moseley, E. L. Leese, K. M. A. Barnett, J. Hodgkin, the base of the frame with a central coat of arms, the shield quartered with lions above a scroll engraved 'Cambridge University Chess Club', the board backed in leather and bearing a red leather shield, gold blocked 'Jaques & Son Makers, London', 62.2cm square, together with a good Victorian ivory Staunton pattern club size chess set, one side stained black and the opposing side left natural, one later pawn, king 11cm, pawn 5.8cm, with a late Victorian mahogany box, s.d., 23.5cm wide, and a book on Cambridge Chess from the 1870s to the 1970s by Richard G. Eales, published 2004. (35)


  • The date that the Cambridge University Chess Club was founded is not known, but the first Blues match was played against Oxford in 1873. This is when competitive chess started to be played at the University. Later it developed an inter-collegiate league and a ‘Cuppers’ competition. (1)

    However, the earliest record of chess being played at Cambridge can be found in the medieval statutes of Cambridge University’s oldest college, Peterhouse. The earliest known chess club is that of Trinity, which was established in 1832, but the University Club is thought to have started in 1856. (2) Interestingly the membership was restricted to Dons until 1873, just before the first Oxford Match.

    In these early days the standard of chess was deemed to be poor. Referring to the participants of the 1873 match the illustrious Howard Staunton opined that they were ‘as a rule very ignorant of chess theory’. (3)

    This changed and eminent players such as H. E. Atkins soon came to the fore, followed by Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander and later the golden period in the 1960s and 1970s when players such as Raymond Keene (a chess Grand Master) participated. Cambridge dominated the National Club Championship, winning six times between 1969 and 1976.

    Henry Ernest Atkins (born 1872) studied at Cambridge and was a resident of Peterhouse College between 1891 and 1894. Ironically the same college that outlawed chess 600 years previously. His name appears on the 1892-93 plaque, which was at a time when he played for Cambridge with great success.

    He won the British chess championship no fewer than nine times, 1905-11 and then again in 1924 and 1925. However, he also won the British Amateur championship (ten were held between 1886 and 1902) in 1895, 1879 and 1900. (4)

    He competed at the international tournament in Hanover in 1902, where he came third and in London in 1922. He wrote the introduction to the first edition of Modern Chess Openings (1911) and was awarded the title of International Master by F.I.D.E. in 1950 in recognition of his achievements. In Cambridge University’s chess club’s early years he was deemed to be the only strong player. (5)

    Another prominent chess name that appears on one of the plaques (1930-31) is Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander (Born in 1909). Alexander was a student at Cambridge from 1928 to 1931 and was a resident of King’s College.

    He represented Cambridge University in the Varsity chess matches from 1929-32, he won the British Chess Championship in 1938 and 1956, represented England six times in the Chess Olympiad and was awarded the title of International Master in 1950. (6) His best tournament result was at the Hastings premier of 1953/54, where he beat Soviet grandmasters Bronstein and Tolush and came first equal with Bronstein. (7) Sadly, the fear of being kidnapped by the Russians limited his appearances overseas. (8)

    The Government employed his cryptanalyst skills during WWII, when he worked on the German Enigma Machine at Bletchley Park. Later he became the head of a division at GCHQ. (9)

    A further name that is engraved on the 1895-1896 and 1897-1898 plaques is the notorious Aleister Crowley, the noted Satanist, writer, philosopher and chess player.

    Aleister Crowley was christened Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875 and paradoxically was born into a highly religious family, both of his parents being members of the radical wing of the Plymouth Brethren, called the Exclusive Brethren. (10)

    His father died in 1887, something of a watershed in his life, as it was from this point that he started to drift away from his faith. In 1895 he started as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, and became involved in occultism and mysticism.

    The concurrent interest in chess did not last as long though. He claimed that he taught himself by the age of six, but this may be an idle boast. Similarly he proclaimed that he beat the university chess president in his first year as a member of the club. It is said that he remarked ‘My one serious worldly ambition had been to become the champion of the world at chess’ and his high opinion of his own capabilities is exemplified by the following self-appraisal – ‘I had snatched a game from Blackburne in simultaneous play some years before. I was being beaten in the Sicilian Defence. The only change was the sacrifice of a rook. I remember the Grand Old Master coming round to my board and cocking his alcoholised eye cunningly at me, ‘Hullo’ said he ‘ Morphy come to town again!’. I am not coxcomb enough to think that he could not have won the game, even after my brilliancy … I had frequently beaten bird at Simpson’s and when I got to Cambridge I made a savagely intense study of the game. In my second year I was President of the University and had beaten first-rate amateurs such as Gunston and Cole. Outside the Master Class, Atkins was my only acknowledged superior. I made mincemeat of the man who was Champion of Scotland a few years later … I was assured on all hands that another year would see me a Master myself’. (11)

    Clearly he was a competent chess player, a fact that is verified by the presence of his name on two shields on this board, but notwithstanding this and his former ambitions, he eschewed the sport in his final year at Cambridge.

    Crowley was a prolific author, writing books on philosophy, politics, culture, poems and plays, including ‘Collected Works of Aleister Crowley 1905-1907’, which most writers would have considered on its own justified a writer’s career. Also he produced the periodical ‘The Equinox’, which was published in book form and served to promulgate his views on the occult. It is for this in particular that he has gained notoriety, being an influential member of the Golden Dawn, the Argenteum Astrum and Ordo Temple Orientis (O.T.O.) (12)

    Amongst many of his polemics were those concerning sex magick (sic). White Stains was published in Amsterdam in 1898 and was so sexually explicit that British Customs destroyed most of the published copies. His published views ranged from paganism, homosexuality (at a time when it was illegal) and heterosexuality to paedophilia. Consequently he was dubbed ‘the wickedest man in the world’ by the tabloid press, which to his amusement, lambasted him frequently. (13)

    Crowley embraced controversy and courted danger. For example he worked for British Intelligence whilst in America from 1914-18, posing as an agent of German propaganda and a supporter of Irish nationalism. His mission was to do the converse, to compromise both the German and Irish causes by producing damaging propaganda. (14)

    Whether he sought infamy or not, his actions certainly ensured he would not be forgotten, although clearly he felt it was his destiny, when he changed his name from Alexander to Aleister, he recounts that the latter was a favourable name, conferring fame, but then says ‘I can’t say that I feel sure that I facilitated the process of becoming famous. I should doubtless have done so, whatever name I had chosen’. (15)

    1 Janus Lib. Cam. Ac. UK, Page 1
    2 Eales (R.G.): Cambridge Chess from the 1870s to the 1970s, Hardinge Simpole Publishing, 2004, Page 11
    3 IBID
    4 En. Wikipedia.Org/Wiki/Henry_Ernest_Atkins, Page 1
    5 Eales (R.G.): Cambridge Chess from the 1870s to the 1970s, Hardinge Simpole Publishing, 2004, Page 12
    6 En Wikipedia.Org/Wiki/Conel_Hugh_O’Donel_Alexander, Page 2
    7 IBID
    8 IBID
    9 IBID Page 1
    10 En. Wikipedia.Org/Wiki/Aleister_Crowley, Page 2
    11 IBID, Pages 8 & 9
    12 IBID, Page 1
    13 IBID, Page 1
    14 Spence (R.B.): Secret Agent 666 Aleister Crowley & British Intelligence In America. Volume 13, No. 3, 1 October 2000, Pages 359-371
    15 En. Wikipedia.Org/Wiki/Aleister_Crowley, Page 4

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