A business-minded chess buddy of mine recently asked why I bother with plastic sets and the like. Some of your “artistic wood jobs,” he eloquently pointed out, sell for almost the same price as the old Jaques sets from London, “but the plastic ones are losers straight off the bat.” Everyone was entitled to this chap’s opinion, “…the artistry is magic, Al (the contraction ‘Al’ has always irked me, he knows this). But the average chess collector just doesn’t appreciate the amount of time you invest in one of these hand-painted sets. They’re just not worth your while.”
I begged to differ. Not every chess collector is “average.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
He pulled up our website thechessschach.com and rapped a manicured fingernail on the screen pointing out a very nice plastic ‘artistically reimagined’ set from our Archive Gallery. I cast my eyes over the project with a justifiable amount of pride.
Domi Rus, The RR Collection. King 11cm, Uzbekistan, c.1970-1980
“Well, I’ll explain,” he said, “if you don’t mind telling me how much you sold this set for.”
“Gladly,” I retorted, recalling the transaction fondly. It was a bronze signature set called Domi Rus (Domes of Old Russia) that was bought by one of our regular Australian collectors for five hundred Canadian, not exactly chicken-feed, Ricky” [Ricky isn’t his real name, by the by, and ‘buddy’ is probably stretching it a bit].
“No, you didn’t get five hundred,” Ricky said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, I didn’t? What are you, my eff’in book-keeper all of a sudden?
“Not at all, just saying. You got four-fifty for the set, because you mentioned a while back that you have a silent business partner that gets ten percent of your sales.”
“Correct, and rightfully so,” I said. “Wouldn’t have been able to do this without them. They helped get the Chess Schach off the ground, so well deserved. I’m down fifty shitters. No big deal.”
“No, you’re down more than that, Al. How much did you pay for the set in the first place?”
“Well, – and it’s Alan, Ricky – if it was listed at $500, my rule of thumb is around 25% of that is cost, so $125, or thereabouts.”
“So realistically you got $325 for your five hundred bucks,” said my sadistic friend.
“Except you didn’t!”
“Didn’t you just say the customer lived in Oz? You offer free worldwide shipping, mate, and Australia is not around the corner,” the sadist pounded on. “How much did it cost you to wing it there?”
“Okay. I get your point. On average, tracking included, just north of seventy-five bucks. So I’m down to $250. I still think two-fifty’s not bad for – ”
“Except you’re not even getting that, Al!” interjected my penny-pinching advisor, who by now was pissing me off royally.
“How much time did you spend on the pieces?”
I was silent, sucking my teeth, ruminating. The inquisitor knew why.
“Around ten hours,” I mumbled. It was more than that. I knew it. It takes several hours just to remove the seam-lines from these plastic sets, but the inquisitor can go fuck himself was my thinking at this point – I’m happy. Don’t ruin it!
An artist is not a businessman. We have a passion that isn’t governed by monetary factors. Time does not equal money. Time is of no consequence until the time comes when you can touch a piece no more. That’s how artists know they are finished. We call Time. The hands of a clock cannot signal that. Art should never be measured in business terms. Business kills Art like Art kills a Business.
The conversation stymied. Ricky’s time was up. His final words were, “By the way, Al, what tax bracket are you in, twenty percent, thirty? And did we discuss selling fees?” I had one of those pointy Soviet bishops handy. I stabbed him in the neck with it. I got him good and it felt good.
“That’s enough advice from Ricky,” murmured Al.
Until next time. Check you later, Schachers!
Photos: The Chess Schach
Text: Unashamedly inspired by the grandmaster of the macabre, the legend, Stephen King; The Skeleton Crew (New American Library, 1985).
All rights reserved, Alan W. Power, The Chess Schach. March 2023.