Isle of Lewis Themed Chess Set
Stone Resin Chess Pieces
The Isle of Lewis chessmen were featured in the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Own a faithful reproduction of the earliest known European chess set! This Isle of Lewis chess set is a genuine replica of the world famous Isle of Lewis chess pieces on display in the British Museum. Because of the direct involvement of the British Museum in developing the molds for these chessmen, this is the closest reproduction of the historic Lewis chessmen available today. Originally discovered on the Isle of Lewis around 1170, they are of Scandinavian origin.
The Isle of Lewis chess pieces in Chocolate Brown have an antique ivory finish. The King is 3.75" tall. This set is made from a composite of crushed stone and resin, which makes for the look and feel of stone, while exhibiting the durability of a composite.
A Bit of History - Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces
The Isle of Lewis (pronounced Lews) is in the northernmost of the Outer Hebrides - a barren, windswept land of swamps, rocks and peat moss. The Island has a rich legacy of ghosts and Druid spirits.
In the Spring of 1831, the sea eroded a sandbank on the Island's West coast at the South shore of Uig Bay, uncovering a stone building formed somewhat like a baking oven. This curious structure caught the eye of a peasant, who proceeded to break into it, says one contemporary account. He was astonished to see what he concluded to be an assemblage of Gnomes and Elves.
The original chess set from the Isle of Lewis has 78 pieces in all, carved in Morse ivory (Walrus tusk) which are thought to belong to eight or more incomplete chess sets. These Romanesque visages are unique in the annals of Medieval Art. Nothing quite like them has been found before or since. There seem to be no counterparts for the very simply adorned, compact, expressive figures with their strong, forceful faces. Experts are unanimous in declaring them the most astonishing collection of ancient chessmen in existence. The British Museum now houses 67 of these. The remainder are in the Edinburgh National Museum.
This array of Medieval Monarchs and Advisors faithfully reflects the tastes and customs of those times more than any other known set of chessmen. The artists have omitted no essential detail in their regalia or other vestments. Only the Pawns are abstractions - like tombstones, perhaps reflecting the expendable nature of peasants.
The details of the armor and costume were used by experts at the British Museum to estimate the age of the chessmen to be from the later part of the twelfth Century (1150-1170 AD). The most unusual feature of the set are the Rooks, which take the form of foot officers rather than towers - a common theme in early Icelandic chess sets, where they were called "Centurions." This suggests that the chessmen might have been carved in Iceland and carried to Lewis.
A note of interest, Katharine Briggs, in her Encyclopedia of Fairies (Pantheon, 1976) notes: "A tradition has arisen about them (the Lewis Chessmen). It is said that the guards who take the guard-dogs around at night cannot get them to pass the Celtic chessmen. They bristle and drag back on their haunches. So, perhaps the Highlander's superstition can be excused."
King Height: 3.75 inches
King Base: 1.75 inches
Recommended Board Square Size: 2.25 inches