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I just recently started looking at HOS chess sets again. I looked several years ago but at the time it just wasn't in the budget. But I'm at that stage in my life where I have more means so it was time to look again. After reading several threads here at Chess.com I started poking around the HOS site. I looked at every wood set offered. Two sets caught my eye: The Collector Series, and the Imperial Collector Series, both in Ebony/Boxwood and with 4.0" Kings.
The things I like about the Collector Series are the Rooks with the short turret heights which make them look taller and more castle-like, the Bishops with the deep cut miters, and just the general overall slender, classy look of the Kings, Queens, and even the Pawns. The Knights on the Collector Series are great looking as well. But if you go to the Imperial Collector Series you get not only all of the great looking pieces of the regular Collector Series, but you also get one of the best looking Knights out there on any chess set, anywhere!
Make no mistake though, these sets are expensive. I don't want to get into the whole debate about whether or not an expensive chess set is worth the price. Ultimately, that is up to each person and their means. I like quality products. And I will pay a premium price for something I like the look, feel and performance of, even if it can be found for less. YMMV.
With all the talk about HOS chess sets being offered on eBay, I went over there and started looking. The first day (Saturday) there was an Ebony/Boxwood Collector Series listed with just 11 hours to go. I checked back at the end and put in a modest bid with a few minutes left and found myself the high bidder for a few minutes. But in the final seconds the various bots kicked into action and the final winning bid was well beyond my high bid. These sets go for $749 on HOS. Winning bid was $380. Still a deal, IMHO.
The very next day I found an Ebony/Boxwood Imperial Collector Series listed, again with just 11 hours to go. These sets go for about a $150 more than the regular Collector Series sets so I expected the set to go for even more. With seconds left I put in a higher bid than the day before thoroughly expecting to get outbid again in the final milli-seconds. There was a flurry of activity but in the end I won. I was shocked, but happy. These sets go for $899 on HOS. Winning bid was $370.
I made payment the next morning, a Monday, they shipped on Tuesday, and the set arrived yesterday - a Friday. Wow - that whole thing happened in less than a week! I guess it was meant to be. The set came very well packaged and protected. The pieces were in special shipping trays that hold the parts separate from each other with inner and outer boxes using foam and packing peanuts.
It should be noted that the eBay-listed sets do NOT come with the free wood storage boxes. You have to buy online from the HOS site to get that. Of course you will also pay way more. The eBay listing does not say that you do get this box so no harm, no foul there. The one thing that the eBay listing did say was that the set was 'Antiqued Boxwood/Ebony'. I found this odd because on the HOS website they only advertise the Imperial Collector Series in Natural Boxwood/Ebony. I also wasn't sure I liked the tint of the Antiqued Boxwood so I was concerned, but since they do offer a seven-day return so I figured I'd give it a go.
On to the first impressions. I opened the boxes and the first thing I see is the Ebony King, and my heart sinks - the finial is broken off the top! But upon closer inspection I see that the pieces ship with the finials not installed in the Kings. Whew! This is a good idea but it's something HOS should mention on their website so a guy doesn't have a heart attack!
The next thing I notice is that the white pieces are in fact Natural Boxwood, and not Antiqued Boxwood. This is what I was hoping for so that was a good thing. The last thing that jumps out at me is just how HUGE these pieces look. I have been playing with pieces that have 4.0" Kings for months so this surprised me. Not only are they tall, but the bases are very wide.
As expected the pieces are very heavy. This give them as great a high-quality feel as they look. The bases of each piece is covered with a high-quality green billiard cloth, except for the Kings. They have a very nice looking dark green leather pad with "House of Staunton" embossed in gold letters. Another thing I noted, the Imperial Collector Series sets, unlike the regular Collector Series sets, do not have the Crown stamps on the King Rook and Knight. I checked the HOS website and this is reflected in the descriptions there.
I unpack all of the pieces and set them up on a board. This board, oddly enough, is a beautiful Greenwood and Bird's Eye Maple Standard Traditional Chessboard that I purchased from the USCF way back when I was first looking at high-end chess sets so long ago. It is the same board shown on the HOS website under that name. I never used this board, never even opened it up since I didn't have a chess set worthy of it.
The HOS site says that for the 4.0" size sets you should get a board with 2.375" or 2.5" squares. Now I can see why. The bases of the Kings are so wide that they need a large board. My board has only 2.25" squares but it still looks great and works visually so I'm not worried. So I set all the pieces up and here are a couple photos. I appologize for the photos as they are simple cell phone camera shots so they are not the best:
As stated earlier, this is just a beautiful set. But the real stars of this show are the Knights! The downturned heads, flowing manes, and aggressive faces give these pieces the fierce look that embodies the bold and unpredictable weapon that a Knight truly is on the chessboard!
Now, on the 'problems'. I put this in quotes because I'm a little anal with a mild case of OCD. I understand that with any hand-crafted item made of wood you are going to have deviations in workmanship and materials. But as discussed in other, similar threads, these chess sets are supposedly the highest quality of materials and workmanship available on today's market, and priced accordingly. Therefore we expect a superior product commensurate with such a claim and price, right?
Not to worry, there wasn't much. One minor flaw, one major. First up, the minor one. The Boxwood King has a small dark spot in the base area that looks like a smudge or something under the finish. Upon inspection with magnification this looks like it might be part of the wood grain but it's not certain and anyway it looks like a finish defect that would likely drive my OCD crazy everytime I see it. Add to that the finial would not seat all the way down leaving a small gap (the Ebony King's finial did seat all the way down). So the combination of these two issues will lead me to request a replacement from HOS. Here is a photo of the Boxwood King:
Last but certainly not least was one of the Ebony Queens. As we all know, or should know, and as discussed at length on any forum about chess equipment, Ebony pieces should all have a very uniform dark or black color. Nearly every piece in this set does. Sure, if you look at them under bright artificial light you can see variations in color and hue. But on one Queen there are two large areas of very light color that can be seen under normal lighting. So much so that it looks more like a bad staining job than just a grain color difference. In my opinion, on a set of this caliber, this should not have gone out the door. I will be requesting a replacement for this piece as well. Here is a photo:
All in all though I am very happy with this set. Assuming HOS customer service lives up to their reputation and provides me with replacement pieces that are satisfactory I will consider this whole process a success. I will update this thread with my experiences with HOS customer service but based on what I have read in this forum I am not worried.
I would like to have some sort of storage container for them even though I don't intend on traveling with the set. HOS has a board I love with built-in drawers for storage but not for a set this size. So I will have to look around for options. I intend on leaving this set out to use so there is no rush at this point anyway. If you know of websites that have this type of set up, please point me in their direction.
To those who are on the fence as to whether or not to jump into this type of purchase I say if you have the means then go for it. Based on my experience so far you cannot go wrong. You will have beautiful heirloom-quality chess set that you will enjoy for many years to come and it will be something you can pass on to a loved one down the road.
Update! I have been playing with the set quite a bit, mostly just book stuff, and I continue to love the look and feel of this set. I did find another flaw though - a couple of 'gashes' on the Boxwood Rook's turret. Fortunately I had not contacted HOS before discovering this - more on that after this photo:
Since finding this flaw I have gone over all the pieces with magnification and everything else is fine. So I contacted HOS customer service and spoke with Terri. As has been the case with every post on this and other sites about HOS's customer service, they were outstanding. Terri appologized for the inconvenience and said they would ship out replacement parts immediately. She did ask to send photos if I had them so they could best match up the finishes with the replacement parts. I should have them by Friday, give or take a day. I'll keep you posted as to what happens when they arrive and how well they match the other pieces. But I'm not worried because one thing is for sure, HOS customer service is excellent. Buy with confidence from this outstanding company.
Now I'm thinking I might need a 3" Imperial Collector set for the road!
Final update and edit to this thread: I received the three replacement pieces for the ones with minor flaws. All of the replacement parts are perfect and now the set is perfect. HOS customer service was a joy to deal with and replaced my pieces with no questions asked. I did not even have to return the defective pieces. This is how customer service should be! So while HOS chess sets are expensive, as we have seen they are simply beautiful, the standard to which all others strive to become. If it's in your means to own one of these sets, do not hesitate to buy one. You will not regret it!
Thanks for the review w/ pics.
It's been almost 10 years since I got my Collector and seeing your description was really quite a rush back to that day. I love getting a great new chess toy.
You know, mine had more problems than yours but the replacement pieces were all proper and I ended up with what this detail-freak calls a great set. I hope your issues are processed as smoothly.
Mine was an eBay snatch too, at just $250 or so back then as I recall. Things were nuts back then and I saw their ebony Collector II go for <$80. Is that a steal or is that a steal? (I got one before that for $200, which I thought was too low to pass on, but there ya go.)
I had an oak box with poplar trays made for my Collector. I lined them with suede and compartmentalized them. Came out okay.
Nices pieces, especially Queens' crowns.
Though the board looks really weird.
What is so special about grainy green?
Nothing special, just a nice wood board. I went with the green because I was playing a lot of tournaments back then and was used to the green vinyl boards. I actually liked the blue a little better and wish I had gone that route.
Very handsome set; and for less than $12.00 per piece.
Beautiful set, very nice board although I'd prefer something besides green. The Knights are especially awesome!
Green is very popular in vinyl rollup boards because it's supposed to be "easy on the eyes" so I presume this principle applies to wood as well, but I'd still prefer looking at that beautiful grain pattern in oak, cherry, maple or walnut.
i enjoy your reviews. i got one of the magnetic sets from india after seeing your extensive review here.
now i believe that a HOS set is in my future!
Fan o' the green here.
Higher quality HOS green wood board:
and a very nice leather board (I have a much smaller one from the same maker--good stuff):
and a natural colored, slightly greenish wood, verawood. HOS again:
Wonderful review & photos.
My wife looks over my shoulder and says, "Why would you need ANOTHER chess set?"
For me, these 64 squares have joined to become an acme of beauty and practicality. (I'm talking about the playing field, not the framing.) Brazilian Rosewood/Quilted Maple--rich and dimensional, you can't just get Brazilian Rosewood.
This last photo shows the board topped by an antique Jaques Lasker-style set. Might as well go big I guess.
Nice photos - great looking boards and sets, especially that last board - Georgous!
I've been thinking of getting the Tiroir board from HOS with the built-in storage drawers for the pieces instead of just getting a separate storage box for them. My only concern with this board is that because of the added height (over 4"), it would making playing on regular surface heights like the dining room table, difficult.
Does anyone have any experience with this board from HOS (pictured below)?
Very nice pictures and review. Losing your work is a known "feature" if you take more than 25 minutes or so to enter your article. Edit your text offline in notepad then cut & paste when you want to post.
I have a similar drawer box but it's much less than 4 inches - probably less than three. I have no problem with that height but it's still somewhat easier to accidentally knock pieces over when wearing a loose sweater that I suspect it would be were the pieces sitting right on the tabletop, like with a vinyl board. 4 inches sounds like a lot though.
Yes, it is high - 4.5" is the height given on the HOS website. It would be fine if it was going to sit on something already low, like a coffee table but I don't have a lot of room in my house as it is and the one coffee table I have has a computer on it so we'll see. For now the green wood board will suffice.
Just as an FYI to those following this thread, but only the replies down on this end - I have updated my original post up top to include a photo of a flaw found on another piece, as well as my initial contact with HOS customer service!
Nice review. Thanks to you and the subsequent posters for sharing their pics.
May I ask where you got the last board?
All I have is the pic, an old offering from HOS. No longer available, I'm afraid.
Thanks for the response!
Methos, Congrats on acquiring this wonderful set. I think buying online from India makes sense as it is cheap, quality is good and they are providing good service.
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