Valdai Boyars (Valdaem Nobilis); 32 chess pieces with or without board (see below), Soviet, birch wood, red vs. black, partially weighted, artistically restored, early mass-produced version, c.1953
Height: King 8cm, weight 12g, base width 3cm; Queen 6.8cm 12g, Bishop 6,3cm 8g, Knight 6cm 11g, Rook 4.7cm 12g, Pawns 4.5cm 6g.
W: gently antiqued pink felt pads, B: same
This well-balanced and attractive Soviet design is the 1950s version of the ‘Valdayski’ or ‘Nobles’ chessmen. ‘Valdayski’ refers to the Valdai Regional Industrial Manufactory (a polite term for a ‘work-camp’) in the old Novgorod region near Moscow where many (possibly all) of these distinctive sets were produced. ‘Boyars’ refers to the upper echelons of Russian society when the nobility was known as Boyards or Boyars, from the Greek, boliades.
The style is unmistakably Cold War Soviet featuring the broad, bell-bottomed bases, a common design element in these medium-sized sets which compensated for the lack of available lead weight during the recovery years after two World Wars. The distinctive features of this pattern compared to the 60s versions are the more erect rooks, the smaller domes of the bishops and a more slender appearance to the pieces overall.
In particular, the upper portion of the pieces, especially the elongated, svelte collars of the bishops and royals (reminiscent of the Averbakh sets) have an aloof, aristocratic air about them. A characteristic feature of the design I’ve emphasized by highlighting the collars in antiqued copper for the light side and antiqued bronze for the dark pieces – these subtle copper accents being a feature of our 2022 ‘copper signature’ listings.
The set originally came to me in slight disrepair. The pawns had a few chips here and there about the collars and one chipped black bishop collar has also been repaired, As usual, a few of the finials on both sides were missing which have been matched exactly to other 50s sets in my collection.
The main problem, however, with these early Valdai sets is how close the black and red colours became over the years. After great deliberation, I, therefore, decided to bite the bullet and refinish the lighter pieces in what I believe to be how the pieces first looked before the varnish darkened to a very deep burgundy. The original deep burgundy pieces aren’t unattractive, by any means, but they are just unplayable, being so easily confused with the dark pieces. A problem I have resolved here by matching the red patina to the original black patina using tinted shellac, waxes and oils – and a few other tricks along the way….
Before I depart, a word about weight. The kings, queens and rooks have been weighted slightly as they’ve always felt a little on the light side to me. Now we have a totally playable, handsome and well-balanced vintage Valdai set from the early 50s. Why not enjoy a few games with this iconic chess set yourself? I certainly have!
The pieces are UV resistant and ideal for display as well as casual play.
Both kings carry our hand-painted, iridescent copper ‘Power’ signature of the artist on their bases. The set is also accompanied by our hand-drawn ‘Certificate of Artistry’ which will be posted out separately once we tally up how many ‘Copper Signature’ sets pass through our galleries in 2022 “… all good things …” as the old saying goes.
Ref code: VN22
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