Rubae Militium (Red Army); 32 hand-painted wooden chessmen (unweighted) without board, mushroom/deep red vs. deep red, Soviet, Khrushchev era, circa 1953-1964
Height: King 8cm, wt 12g, base diameter 3cm; Queen 7cm, Bishop 6.7cm, Knight 7cm, Rook 5.2cm, Pawn 4.7cm. W: antiqued red felt pads B: same
This handsome, naturally-weighted, medium-sized set was manufactured during the late 1950s in the ubiquitous Soviet sweatshops called the Artel, a loose association of craftsmen and artisans described by the Russian defector, Yuri Krotkov, in his memoir, I Am From Moscow (NY 1967) as “a small workshop, ostensibly co-operative, but under government control.” Unlike the gulags (the forced-labour camps)* workers volunteered for the Artels and took pride in their work from which they received a small share of the profits. Thereby, the designs and quality of these Artel sets are of a higher standard than those manufactured in the penal system of the old Soviet Union.
This particular set came to me in fairly poor condition – it looked like it had been the chew-toy of a small dog or cat – so painting was the only option in this case. The colours I chose are inspired by old Soviet military uniforms; the dark pieces are a deep red with a subtle faux wood-grain running through them, while the light side is based upon a photograph of Stalin during the 40s wearing a tunic of light army green with deep red accents.
It was a conscious decision to leave the set unweighted, as the large rotund bases beneath their slender stems provide a natural sense of added weight which was the ultimate aim of the anonymous designer of this classic Soviet set – a natural feature that should be enjoyed by those who are fortunate enough to handle these pieces in the future – and I hope it is you, dear reader!
*for more information on chess in the gulags see my Chessay, GULAG KNIGHTS on the ALL ABOUT CHESS page on our official site @ www.thechessschach.com
The pieces are UV resistant and ideal for display as well as casual play.
Both Kings carry the hand-painted iridescent gold signature of the artist (as this set was completed in 2019 – due to a little mix up it got stored in our ‘future projects’ cupboard).
Ref code: RM19