The Joy of Chess Collecting

The Joy of Chess Collecting
by Andy Ansel
Published in Chess Today on 6 January 2004

In this article I would like to give some hints and ideas on chess collecting. The first thing that is important is to remember this is a hobby and is for fun (not money) and there is much research and time necessary to become a ‘master’ of the subject. I am going to concentrate on collecting as opposed to practical collections used by players to improve, though obviously there is some overlap.

Step 1 is to pick a genre of books to specialize in. In my case I am interested in old and classic games, thus I decided to collect tournaments, biographies and assorted game collections. I also have periodicals as they contain much of the material that I find interesting and also give a nice flavour of the period.

The second dilemma in regard to book collecting has to do with the language the book is written in. Obviously English is preferred (by me), but pretty soon one finds that there aren’t that many English books out there. I then expanded to German and other languages and finally to Russian when I taught myself the very basics of the Cyrillic alphabet.

As a collector, I find looking through various books gives me great pleasure. Some of my favourite books are on the lesser known players. Books that I enjoy include: Lacking the Master Touch by Heidenfeld, Chess in Philadelphia by Reichhelm (one of my copies was presented to Sam Loyd by Shipley), which besides being a great game collection is a physically beautiful book. I also enjoyed Dr Hartlaub’s Glanzpartien (in German) were I found the games are quite wild and fun to play through!

The next step in building a collection is finding the books. This is the fun part. There are several dealers in the US who have some lists. I have purchased quite a few books from Chessco’s lists (no Bob isn’t paying me to say this and anyone who is serious about collecting should pay for these lists) as they have had some major collections go through them in the last few years with many hard to find items. Another tactic I use is to ask some of the people I play correspondence chess with about books and dealers in their home country. When I was looking for L’Echiquier (a beautiful and very hard to find Belgian magazine that ran from the late 1920’s through the 1930’s), a Belgian opponent took and ad out for me in their Correspondence magazine. I also exchange with people in foreign countries as what is common here is hard to find there (and visa versa.)

In terms of etiquette of buying procedure, if I find a book I want to purchase at a price I want to purchase it at, I don’t try and talk the dealer down — I found that being a fair customer has enabled me to have first look at many collections which in my mind is worth the few dollars saved on a book. The pricing of used books is not exact, there is no official list or ‘set’ price. I use common sense and a feeling of how badly I want the book. Just this week, a friend was buying a nice assortment of older books and asked if I wanted any — a few were slightly more expensive than I had hoped (about $10 or so) but in my mind the years it may take to find these again are well worth the extra money. Also, I will always pay more for condition (similar to the location rule in real estate).

Even with all my books, I still love looking through them and finding a nice new addition. I hope my advice proves helpful.

Alex Baburin: I would like to add a few words to what Andy said. I have about 8 years experience as a book dealer. At first I specialised in antiquarian Russian chess literature and later expanded into books in other languages. I agree that it is hard to establish a ‘fair price’ – what has no value for one person, can be a treasure for another! In this game knowledge is power, so try to get some catalogues of antiquarian books, if you can.

Be careful with how people describe books (if you buy via mail-order or on the Net) – you might find that ‘excellent condition’ has many different meanings! _ In my work as book dealer I use a couple of books which explain how books should be described. In fact, they claim that ‘excellent condition’ is not a valid term! Anyway, if you buy from the same persons regularly, pretty soon you will learn about their standards and reliability.

If you are serious about collecting chess books, pay a visit to the Ken Whyld Association website – – which aims to help chess book collectors. As for buying books online, there is a lot of stuff on eBay – just search for ‘chess book’. And, of course, don’t forget to visit the GM Square online auction!

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