Mementos of Morphy

Mementos of Morphy

| 19 | Chess Players

Paul Morphy circa 1858


     I had come across this blurb in an 1886 edition of the "British Chess Magazine" under the sub-title, "Foreign News" :

     The estate of the late Paul Morphy was sold by auction on July 24th, and among the personal property were the trophies which he had won by his Chess skill. These consisted of a great silver laurel-leaved crown presented to him in 1859 by the Union Chess Club, New York, and a silver salver, pitcher, and four goblets, won by him in the New York Congress of 1857. 
       On the salver is represented Morphy winning the final game from Paulsen, and each piece bears the initials P. M. All these articles were knocked down to Mr. Samory for 650 dollars. 
       The celebrated set of gold and silver Chessmen, together with the board inlaid with pearl and ebony, were bought for a client by Mr. Denegre for 1500 dollars. This board and men were presented to Morphy at New York on his return from his victorious tour through Europe, and at the same time was given him an elaborate gold watch having Chess figures to mark the hours, but the latter he sent to Paris to be pawned when he was in difficulties, and it was unhappily never redeemed.

     In December of 1885, the BMC had reported that "gold and silver men were offered for sale to the St. George's Chess Club "at the rather prohibited price of  £1,000."

     C.A. Buck elaborated (in 1902) with:
     "After his death his trophies were sold at auction. The silver service, consisting of a pitcher, four goblets and a salver, being the first prize won at the chess congress, was bought for $400 by Mr. Samory at New Orleans; the set of gold and silver chessmen was taken by Walter Denegre, acting for the Manhattan Chess club of New York, price $1,550; and the silver wreath sold for $250, also bought by Mr. Samory."

     In the early 20th century, John Keeble managed to follow the trail to Count Gasquet (of France, but living in New Orleans) who claimed to have obtained the chessboard but was unaware of the location of the pieces. The trail grew cold after that . The board and pieces are still unaccounted for today.

Morphy's bust:

    According to Dr. Johnson, the Paris correspondent of the "New York Times" who covered Morphy's stay in France:
       "M. Lequesne, the sculptor, has executed in marble a very fine bust of Mr. Morphy, which has been placed along side of those of Labourdonnais and Philidor, at the chess club over Café de La Régence.  Small duplicates of this are on sale about town."

     While Léona Queyrouze wrote:
When he returned from his first visit to Paris, he brought back to his mother a copy of his bust - by the great sculptor Lequesne. It was proudly placed by her in her sanctum. That copy, smaller than the original bust, also came from the hands of Lequesne who presented it to Mr. Morphy, as a token of friendship and admiration.


Morphy's tournament prize

     Morphy also received a silver salver and tray in lieu of the $300 cash prize (at his own request) for winning the 1st American Chess Congress. The tray, commissioned by the Congress Committee and manufactured by Ball, Black & Co. of New York, had an etching of Morphy playing Paulsen along with the following inscription:

This Service of Plate
is presented to
The Victor in the Grand Tournament
at the First Congress
of the
American National Chess Association
New York, 1857


Morphy's Watch:


     W.J.A. Fuller presented the watch to Morphy who replied:  
It has been my good fortune, on a previous visit to your City, to form acquaintances which have ripened into friendships. You are the organ, Sir, of some gentlemen with whom my intercourse has more particularly assumed the character of intimacy.  The presentation of the very elegant watch you have handed me must necessarily be less formal that that which has just taken place. Words of learned length or thundering sound would ill become the nature of the occasion. I will simply say that I value this testimonial not less highly than the other. It is friendship's gift - the "vade mecum" that must accompany me everywhere I go, to remind me that in whatever section of this broad Republic my abode my be planted, there will be in the far North friends whose anxious gaze will be turned to my home, whose hearts will watch with deep emotion the part I sustain in life's great drama, eager to see me touch the goal of success.
        Interpreting it in such a manner as a token of interest felt in my future career  by those you represent, I receive this beautiful piece of workmanship with unaffected pleasure. Long may the hands on its dial mark golden hours for my friends, and may no untoward mate ever arrest their course of success on the great chessboard of the world.

     (from the testimonial program) "The movements of this watch were made entirely by machinery, and it's interior and exterior presents as elegant a specimen of art as well can be imagined. The whole is highly creditable to the celebrated makers and to American ingenuity."

     The stem and pendant is exquisitely carved, so as to represent a King's crown. It is set round with brilliants, and another large diamond at its top, which answers for a push-piece by which to open the watch. Upon one lid the United States coat of arms is richly carved in relief. on the other lid, also in relief, the monogram:        P. M.
     Instead of the usual Roman numerals on the dial, the hours are represented by various pieces of chess, finely done in red and black - the Black King standing at twelve, and the Red King at six, the Queens at one and eleven, Bishops at two and ten, Knights at three and nine, Castles at four and eight, and Pawns at five and seven.

      Morphy visited the American Watch Company in Waltham on May 30, 1859, during his visit to Boston and was given a tour of the facility by the proprietor. Undoubtedly, Morphy was asked keep them informed concerning the accuracy of his one-of-a-kind timepiece since on October 5, 1859, he wrote the following letter (which was subsequently published on October 15 in the New York Saturday Press.)

                                                                     New York, October 5, 1859
Mr. R. E. Robbins, Treas. Am. Watch Company:
Dear Sir:
The American watch, No. 9240, presented me by the New York Chess-Club has proved to be a most reliable and accurate time-keeper - almost unnecessarily so for ordinary purposes. It is now nearly five months since it came into my possession, and during that period its variation from standard time has been but a trifle more than half a minute. The following is a record of its performance. It was set July 3rd correctly:

June 15,    fast   4  seconds               Aug. 15,     fast  18  seconds
July    1,      "     6     "                        Sept.   1,     "    23      "
   "    15,      "     10    "                           "    15,     "    28      "
 Aug.   1,      "     16    "                      Oct.     1,     "    32      "

I give permission to make use of this statement as you may think proper. I am, with respect, yours truly,
                                                                                 Paul Morphy



The Chessmen and board:


from "Morphy Gleanings"  by Philip Sergeant 
     The board, which had mother-of-pearl and ebony squares, was of rosewood inlaid with silver, and at each corner were the letters P.M. in a wreath of gold. On a silver plate on one border was the inscription: To Paul Morphy, a recognition of his genius and a testimony of regard from the friends and admirers in New York and Brooklyn, 1859. On the opposite border was another silver plate, bearing the names of fourteen players with claims to the chess championship of the world.
     The men were of solid gold, representing Romans, and silver, representing Barbarians, and they were mounted on bases of cornelian.
     The watch had a stem surmounted by a coronet, studded with diamonds and the places of the numerals were taken by representations of the chess pieces in red and black. On the case were the initials P.M., the arms of the United States, and the inscription: To Paul Morphy from the testimonial Committee of the New York Chess Club, as their tribute to his genius and worth. New York, May 1859.
     When the presentation had been made, with many flattering words, Morphy expressed his thanks in a speech of which one passage may be quoted:
      'A word now on the game itself. Chess never has been and never can be aught but a recreation. It should not be indulged in to the detriment of other and more serious avocations - should not absorb or engross the thoughts of those who worship at its shrine, but should be kept in the background, and restrained within its properprovince. As a mere game, a relaxation from the severe pursuits of life, it is deserving of high commendation.'


     a first-hand description of the board and pieces by Léona Queyrouze

     The chess-men, which are the conspicuous objects of the - "Morphy Testimonial," are of the purest gold and silver, and with the exception of their cornelian pedestals - of those materials alone. In design and execution, as well as in intrinsic value, the set is, so far as we are informed, unequalled - that in the possession of Queen Victoria, though of similar design, being of inferior proportions. The connoisseur will especially remark the exquisite details of the artist's conception. As chess is a regal game, the pieces in this superb set are appropriately modeled after a study of one of the grandest historic episodes - the contest between Christianity and Barbarism. "The Reds," or the gold pieces, are highly-finished statuettes, reproducing the components of an imperial array in the days when Kings and Queens went forth with their armies, and bishops, exchanging mitre and crosier for battle-ax and sword, transferred the war of proselytism from the sanctuary to the field. The "Whites," or silver pieces, in happy contrast, represent the Northern horde, which disputed the domination of Theodosius, or, at a later period, for a while withstood the march of Clovis and Clothilde.
   In detail, the pieces are as follows: The golden King is a statuette, four inches in height, and weighing three ounces; royal robes gracefully falling over his armor; the imperial globe upon his martially defended head; the crown and sceptre at his feet; by his side an elegant shield, and in his right-hand the sword of empire. The Queen, arrayed in character, is of proportions slightly inferior to those of her lord. The Bishops, in the full panoply of warriors, three and a half inches in height, stand perceptibly inclined forward, grasping drawn swords with blades advanced. The Knights, on both sides, are admirably-sculptured chargers, prancing nearly upright, and ruby-eyed. In the rooks, or castles, the artist has adopted the Chinese design, and flanked the rear lines by stately elephants, each bearing an eastern houdah, upon which an elegantly-wrought eagle is spreading his pinions, as if to pounce upon his prey.
   The eyes of both bird and beast are brilliant rubies. The finish of this piece is especially admirable, the artist having achieved a manifest triumph in the contrast, which his fine casting has effected between the coarse hide of the elephant and the tiger-skin mantle of the houdah. This elaborate piece is three and three quarter inches in height, and weighs eighty gold dollars, or, more appropriately, five ounces. The silver King is a happy counterpart to his golden adversary.
   As a leader of the Barbarians, his covering is of bull's hide, and only distinguished from that of his followers by the finer dressing it has received. Disputing the empire with the leader of the opposing host, he, too, wears the imperial globe, upon which rest those emblematic wings with which the Norsemen and the Goths adorned their helmets. The royal emblems lie at his feet, while on his left arm depends a shield inscribed with the defiant motto - Liberty - and in his right he grasps a warlike brand. His Queen is arrayed in proper character.
  The Bishops wear winged helmets and drawn swords, considerably longer than the Roman falchions of their Christian adversaries, their panoply otherwise according with that of their posts. In proportion and weight, these pieces correspond with those of the other side.
   The golden Pawns are statuettes, two and a half inches in height, weighing two ounces. In this piece the artist has elaborated the Roman soldiers - the helmet, buckler, and straight, double-edged sword being exact copies of those borne by men-at-arms of the Western Empire. The silver Pawn is similar in proportion, and a correspondingly exact sculpture of the old Visigoth, wearing upon his body the hide, and upon his head, which he has torn from the wild bull of the Germanian forest. His single weapon is a huge and knotty club, promising a rough encounter for the short blade of his adversary.
   The Pedestal of each piece is polished Cornelian - for the Pawns, a circle of one inch in diameter; for the heading pieces, an oval, one inch and a half in diameter. The value of material worked up amounts to nearly $800, and the entire cost of material and labor is but little less than $500. In the elaborate finish of the historic study, the statuesque proportion, and the exquisite mechanical execution of each piece, the resources of Art have contributed most liberally for the honor of Genius.
   The board upon which the gold and silver chess-men are to stand, likewise manufactured by Tiffany and Co., is a square of twenty-six inches. The body of the board is of rosewood, the squares being of ebony and choice mother of pearl. A slightly raised edge, ornamented by a delicate line of inlaid silver, surrounds the board. Just within this edge another similarly fine line, and a third more heavy, form an agreeable contrast with the rich color of the wood. Three inches from the edge, four tournament lances, in silver, enclose the chequered field - a square of twenty inches. In each exterior angle, formed by the overlapping of the lances, circled by a laurel wreath of gold, exquisitely inlaid, are the letters P.M. in decorated cipher. Midway of the border, from which Mr. Morphy is supposed to play, an inlaid oval plate of silver surrounded by a trophy composed of the standards of those nations whose subjects have been obliged to recognize the sovereignty of a republican champion, bears the subjoined inscription:

Paul Morphy
A recognition of his genius and a token of regard,
His friends and admirers
In New York and Brooklyn.
New York 1859.

     Surmounting this plate is a laurel crown in silver, and beneath it a ribbon of the same metal inscribed with "Proeliis ex sanguinatis facile princeps." In the opposite border another plate, oval inlaid silver, and edged by a trophy of lances, battle-axes, spears, and pieces of armor, incloses an engraved sphynx, around which are grouped the name of the committee of presentation, as follows:
        Charles D. Mead,                             John Van Buren,
        W.J.A. Fuller,                                 H.R. Worthington,
        James R. Whiting,                           Frederick Perrin,
        Daniel W. Fiske,                              Thos. Addis Emmett,
        Nap'n Marache,                                James Thompson,
        Thead. Lichtenhein,                         John S. Dunning,
        Regis de Trobriand,                          H. Foster Higgins,
        James L. Graham, Jr.,                      Wm. Walton,
        Sam. D. Bradford, Jr.,                      T. Frere.

     Similarly situated, on the left hand border, is a third silver plate, circular, supported by sphinxes, ornamented with the armorial bearings of the city of New York. In the opposite border, a fourth plate, of the same metal, emblematically delineates the pyramids, three in number, likewise supported in sphinxes. The centre pyramid, in sections, commemorates the chess champions of all ages, that of the last, and greatest filling the apex, as follows:

La Bourdonnais - MacDonnell
Lopez - Philidor - Salvio
Von der Lasa - Hanstein - Anderssen - Bilguer
Löwenthal - Szen - Petroff - Kieseritzky - Lange.

     The board is paneled and dove-tailed in construction, that no influence of climate or position can possibly affect the integrity of the squares. As  a specimen of workmanship, in addition to the felicity of it's design, the fact that the most skillful artisans consumed six weeks in it's manufacture, and another week in polishing it, is pertinent proof of it's superlative excellence. It's cost is not far from $200.
The testimonial, as furnished by Messrs. Tiffany and Co., includes, besides the chess-men and board, a case of rosewood, fitted with artistically-shaped, velvet-lined niches, for the reception of the set when not in use. 


Missing is the laurel crown of solid silver presented to Morphy by the Union Chess Club of New York.  


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