A 2012 survey found that "chess players now make up one of the largest communities in the world: 605 million adults play chess regularly". Chess is played at least once a year by 12% of British people, 15% of Americans, 23% of Germans, 43% of Russians, and 70% of Indian people.
The history of chess begins around 1500 years ago.
The game originated in India, before the 6th century AD. From there, the game spread to Persia. When the Arabs conquered Persia, chess began to be played by the Muslim world and then spread to Southern Europe. In Europe, chess evolved into its current form in the 15th century.
Before 1849, the “normal chess set” didn't exist.
Over the centuries a large variety of sets of chess pieces were created, taking their inspirations from different areas & cultures.
The game was originally conceived like a field of battle. When it began to gain popularity in Europe the pieces evolved in royal court instead of an army. The chessmen, infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots, became the queen, pawn, knight, bishop, and rook.
In the 19th century, chess competitions needed standardized chess set to help the players compete.
The "Staunton" Chess Set was born.
Today, when we think of chess, we simply envision The Staunton chess pieces.
Howard Staunton was a chess authority and he was the organizer of many chess tournaments and clubs in London. He was also considered to be one of the best players in the world. However, the famous chess set was not designed by him.
The design was actually of architect Nathan Cook, who used like inspiration previous chess sets and the city of London, particularly the Victorian London’s neoclassical architecture and its ancient Greece and Rome roots.
Nathan Cook was Howard Staunton's editor at the Illustrated London Times. Cook used symbols in a very simple form. He gave the King a crown, to the Queen a coronet, to the Bishop a miter, the Knight was a horse's head, the Rook has a castle, and the pawn was a ball. Every symbol was supported on plain rising from a heavy base that gave stability to the entire structure. The design impressed John Jaques, leading woodcarver and he immediately saw the potential and suggested making the pieces on a commercial basis.
The most unique piece of the chess set remains the knight, being the only piece that is not created like an abstract representation; it's a carved horse head.
The Staunton Knight was inspired by one of the most loved sculpture on the east pediment of the Parthenon from the scene of the chariot of Selene, the Moon Goddess. The knight design conveys the struggle and effort of the horse drawing the chariot of the Moon Goddess across the sky in the silence of the night.
Daniel Weil, partner of Pentagram, redesigned the classic Staunton set for the 2013 World Chess Candidates Tournament in London. "When chess started to become popular in the 19th century it became a social showcase, so everyone had a set on the show. I wanted to make an object of quality so that people could also show it off." (Daniel Wiel - DesignWeek)
Smithsonianmag.com - How the Chess Set Got Its Look and Feel by Jimmy Stamp| Wikipedia - History of chess | ChessCentral.com - A history of chess pieces and chess sets by Will Wall | Designweek.co.uk - Daniel Weil redesigns the chess set by Angus Montgomery | Streetdirectory.com - The Unique History of Chess Pieces | Woochess.com