Militibus Distortos (Wounded Warriors); 32 heavily-weighted chessmen without board, 100% wood, Soviet (post Stalin Era), antiqued/distressed, caramel vs. deep brown, circa 1955-1965
Height: King 4.5” 11.5cm, wt 50g, base diameter 4.7cm, Queen 4” 10cm 40g, Bishop 8.3cm 30g, Knight 8cm 35g, Rook 6.5cm 30g, Pawn 5.6cm 18g. W: antiqued grey felt bases, B: same
An extremely popular but quite rare Soviet tournament set from the late 1950s on, marking a transitional period in Soviet chess-piece design when the black knights were still made totally from wood (in variations that followed the upper body of the black knights were molded from dense, dark plastic to loosely match their white wooden counterparts).
The finials, too, were mostly made of plastic while this set carries all wooden ones fashioned in a more rustic design, which I personally, much prefer.
My initial intention for this highly collectible, artistic recreation of a GM3 set was to restore it to its original condition, fixing the knights muzzle and giving some attention to the merlons of the rooks, but after playing through a few games with it one summer evening their ‘wounds’ or ‘battle-scars’ began to bother me less and less, to the point where they actually appealed to me. Ancient statues came to mind that I’ve seen in the museums of Europe with limbs lopped off here and there, even heads in many famous cases. So I decided to leave my wounded warrior be and base the inspiration for the set solely on his shoulders.
I chose to remove the sticky black lead paint that smothered the dark pieces and expose the very fine grain beneath. This was stained in chestnut red and ambers before applying walnut Danish oil and several other deep colourants. The light side has been kept fairly traditional, aiming for the glistening honey-caramel hues you can find on other examples that survived the decades more successfully.
The knights, as you may have noticed, have been refined ever so slightly, they have a more shapely and less angular silhouette. I always feel that if the artisans of the old Soviet manufactories could have their own way with the pieces they would have paid much more attention to details like this – I also imagine it must of drove the artistically minded quite crazy – it certainly would have me!
Weight also plays a big part of this recreation. In the original set the pawn’s weigh in almost the same as a knight or bishop, and the royals were only around 20 grams or so – I wanted these guys to be HEAVY! – so I more than doubled their weight and now they are a real joy to play with.
The pieces are UV resistant and ideal for display as well as Blitz/casual play. Both Kings carry the hand-painted iridescent silver ‘power’ signature of the artist on their bases.
Ref code: GM20