Jensen's Masterpiece

Jensen's Masterpiece

| 35 | Other

     This is a story of a trinity:  a store, a man and a masterpiece.

     Nearly a century ago, a man named William Lindenberg opened a jewelry store on 1314 E. 45th St. in  Seattle. This was in 1924.  On the other side of town two men, Anchor O. Jensen and Fred J. Nielsen were working out of a shop located in the Ranke Building on 420 Pike St.  
Anchor and Jensen, as bench jewelers, probably did some work for Lindenberg and were acquainted.  In 1944 they bought out Lindenberg and moved to his prized University area location.  


     Around 1930-1, Anchor Jensen began a decade long spare-time  project that would prove to be his legacy.

     Anchor Otto Johannes Jensen was an artist and a man of many talents and interests. Primarily, he designed and crafted jewelry and intricate silver pieces for profit but none of there things could compare with the chess set he created for his personal gratification. 

     About his chess set after it was first displayed in 1941, "the American Weekly" wrote:

     In one respect Mr. Jensen's spectacular modern contribution to the ancient game of chess is unique. He did not stick to familiar patters but chose to make half of his men in the likeness of ancient Romans and the other half to represent the Vikings who gave the legions of the Caesar a tough scrap about 1900 years ago.
     The inspiration for the 32 figurines that the Seattle jeweler so patiently fashioned came to him while he was reading a chapter in History which told the story of the invasion of Gaul by the cohorts of Rome.
     He went about his job like an archeologist piecing together a picture of the long-lost past. He collected drawings and sketches of the outfits worn by the Vikings and Romans. No detail was too small for him to study. He read descriptions of the arms used by the belligerents and made great sheafs [sic] of notes.
     He then set to work sculpturing models of his doughty chessmen in wax. From these wax figures he made molds into which he poured molten silver. One by one the little silve figures were finished by hand - until every stirrup and sword-hilt and spearhead was perfect. Long before the two armies were complete, the jeweler had offers to sell them them when they were ready for action on a field of copper and silve quares framed in a border of black marble.
     Devotees of the game of chess are struck by the feeling of dramatic action that Mr. Jensen has put into his 32 fighting men. Never, they say, have they seen a set of chessmen that makes the game seem so much like real warfare, on which it is based.
     It is probable that the Seattle silversmith has turned out the most expensive set of toy soldiers to be found in this war-torn world.

Here is the silver chess set:

nullRoman Knight

nullClose up of the Roman Knight

nullViking King

nullClose up of the Viking King

nullEntire Jensen Chess set

nullRoman Queenside

nullRoman Kingside

nullViking Queenside

nullViking Kingside

       Anchor Jensen was born in Copenhagen on December 8, 1891.  Around the turn of the century, his family, consisting of his parents, himself, a brother and an uncle, emigrated to the United States.  At the age of 15 he became an apprentice jeweler.  He married a Swiss lady named Helen with whom he had a son, Harry Anchor and they lived in a home overlooking Wolf Bay, not far from the University location.  After Helen died in 1967, he remarried to a women named Cassi (Cassie) Cruise.  Cassi's maiden name had been Mazurek.  Cassi, who was born in 1915 and died in 1976, was first married to a man named Froelich; Leo Cruise was her second husband and Jensen was her third husband. 
Anchor died at age 91 in Seattle on May 16, 1983.

     Jensen had belonged to two organizations germane to this story:
     He was granted honorary lifetime membership to the Seattle Chess Club after the set was completed.  A 1975 article ["Seattle Times," Nov. 17] claims the set was "once used for a championship game."    
     He was also a member of the Seattle Amateur Movie Club. Jensen's amateur cinematography produced two prizing winning films. Unlike the great majority of amateur filmmakers, Jensen used 8mm rather than 16mm film.  His first prize winning film was the 1942 entry, "Ten Pretty Girls."  The New York City amateur Movie Club expressed in its newsletter, The New York Eight,   "Ten Pretty Girls is gorgeous, glamorous Kodachrome, easily one of the best amateur movies of the year. ... It should be shown far and wide, especially to some of our somewhat snooty friends in the 16mm. field."
     For the record, the cast included 10 girls and a boy: Ada Jane Nicholson. Rosanne Coyle. Pat Kahlke. Marion Clark, Lois Hoxie. Marcella Logan, Margaret Hansen, Marily Kershaw, Eleanor Nilsen, Virginia Charroin with Harry A. Jensen as the boy. 
     His second award winning film was the 1945, "Alpine Vixen."   In its Dec. 1945 issue, "Movie Makers" magazine wrote, "Anchor O. Jensen has raised 8mm. color filming to a level that movie makers in any width would do well to emulate. Particularly in the double exposed sequence of the Titian haired girl in a cave of crystals does he prove his skill with the camera."

     When the chess set was first displayed, it made the news across the country 

but in Seattle it was much more personal:

null("view image" for full size)

nullJensen working on his figurines.

nullJensen playing the actress from the newspaper article.
     The woman shown in the photo above is Ada Jane Nicholson, a Seattle actress.  Ada, born in 1919, studied theater at the School of Drama at the University of Washingon at which she received the coveted  Zeta Phi Eta Honorary Award 1940.  While performing in local theater, she was called to Hollywood for a screen test and she and her mother stayed there during summer of 1940 hoping for the break that never materialized.  Returning to Seattle, she was one of Jensen's "Ten Pretty Girls"  mentioned above (and apparently secured some modeling gigs).  She died in 1974.

    On Oct. 27, 1948, the Seattle Spectator ran the following article where cinema meets reality:
     Anchor Jensen and Fred Nielsen parted ways when, in 1958, Warren Porter bought the store and retaining Jensen's name, called it Porter Jensen Jewelers.  Jensen remained with Porter for a short time before retiring.  Nielsen opened his own shop downtown. 
     In 1962 Porter moved the store to 4501 University Way NE
      So what does this history of the store have to do with the Jensen chess set?

     The chess set, subsequent to it's original publicity, was pretty much hidden away.  After Warren Porter bought the store, the chess set, still owned by Jensen, was displayed on several occasions at the new store.  
nullOne occasion was the grand opening of the new store in 1962.
     According to an article in the "Seattle Times," Nov. 27, 1975, the chess set would be on display from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm, Dec. 1-6, 1975.  
     As a testimony to the set's valuation, the article stated: "The set can be viewed from a closed display case. There will be a guard standing nearby. At night, the store's ultrasonic security system takes over but there will be an observer outside."  It was also insured for $100,000.
     The same article claimed, ""The last time the set was on public display was in 1968."
     Additionally, quoting the "Times" article once again, "The set went on display once at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry, along with a telegram from William Randolph Hearst, asking Jensen to send it to him along with a bill."
     In spite of Mr. Hearst's presumptuousness, Jensen didn't sell to him.  But the fate of the set makes a remarkable story in its own right. 

     Most of my information comes from the store's archives provided to me by the owner, Joe Waldmann.   Joe bought the business from Mr. Porter whose health was failing (he passed away in 2004) in 1999.  Joe, a chess aficionado,  stumbled across the existence of the chess set while going through the attic of the store.  Contacting the former store manager, a 20 year employee of Mr. Porter, he learned of how Jensen's set has been showcased at the store.  Maybe that would have been that except by some astonishing matter of chance he was contacted by a Mr. Wood who desired an appraisal, for tax purposes, of a item he planned to donate to the MOHAI (the Seattle Museum of History and Industry where the set had been once exhibited).  The item turned out to be Jensen's masterpiece.    The trail is a bit muddied but it seems Mr. Jensen, for whatever reason, sold the set to the father of a poet, name unknown, who gave it to his son as a gift. The poet's fortunes changed and he was forced to give it to Mr. Wood in lieu of some money owed.  Joe told me, "I appraised it at $92,470.00 in August of 2001."  The appraisal also gave him the opportunity to admire the set up close. 

     Joe Waldmann was compelled to move the business yet again due to a deterioration of the neighborhood which kept clients away.
Porter Jensen Jewelers is now located (and Joe Waldmann can be reached) at:
6401 Lake Washington Blvd. SE, Newcastle WA, 98056
Contact email: 
phone: (425) 793-3730
     Currently the chess set that inspired this article resides at the MOHAI in storage, unseen and mostly forgotten.
     In fact, the underlying reasons for our collaboration in this article was first, to bring this work of art to the attention of chess lovers or even art lovers and second, to hopefully serve as a catalyst in getting this treasure exhibited once again for the benefit of all. 

     My part —telling the chess world about this marvelous creation—is done.   Mr. Waldmann's part —enticing the MOHAI to exhibit it— is just beginning.  Part of the plan is to use this article and any positive comments it might generate as a showcase to demonstrate that interest does exist among chess lovers and art lovers. 
     So, please comment and give your support. 

     One can also see an intricate 1/48 scale silver tea pot, creamer and sugar bowl that Anchor Jensen designed and crafted for the Boston Beacon Hill House dollhouse created by Frank Matter in 1955 and now located at the Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City, Missouri: 

More from batgirl
Beth Harmon, the isoLanni?

Beth Harmon, the isoLanni?

Rook Players

Rook Players