Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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Dimensions (inches): Frame - 37.25" square, Board - 14.5" t x 14.25"
Civil War period chess set, the most incredible I have ever seen anywhere, with extremely tall kings, queens, and rooks, the former of which are approximately 4 inches in height. Made of lathe-turned and hand-carved bone, the white pieces were left natural and the opposition painted or stained in red. These are constructed in such a way that they screw apart for disassembly at various joints, the bone itself having been meticulously tapped and died to accomplish this remarkable feature. The graphic and sculptural nature of the reeding, the step-down turnings, and the widely flared bases is terrific. The flags, carved separately, are removable. All of the 32 pieces are present.

The accompanying board, which I have every reason to suspect is original in this pairing, features album in photos of Abraham Lincoln and a large contingent of Civil War, Union Army generals. Made of paper board in a traditional fashion, the edges and reverse are wrapped in red, Moroccan leather, gilt- embossed around the edges and with accompanying text in fanciful, Old English lettering at two ends that reads: “Hill’s Nat’l Chess Board.” on one side and “Patented Sept. 23. 1862.” on the other. The patent, registered by Walter S. Hill & Samuel T. Reed of New York City, wasn’t just for this board, specifically, but for any design of one made for checkers or chess, “having its squares provided with portraits.”

The list of generals is long, most of them early war and pre-war personalities and favorites. It is of particular interest to note that to the left of the president is the explorer, General John Fremont, the “Pathfinder,” the Republican’s first candidate for the presidency of the United States. This was the failed, anti-slavery ticket of 1856, which Lincoln carried forward with success in 1860 and then 1864, both of which times Fremont challenged him for the nomination. To the right is Winfield Scott, Commanding General of the U.S. Army when the war broke out, and former Whig nominee for president in 1852. Next is General George H. McClellan, who Lincoln appointed to replace Scott as the Army’s commanding officer. McClellan then challenged Lincoln for the White House in 1864, as the Democrat Party’s chosen nominee. Present on the facing side are General Henry Hallec, who replaced McClellan as the Army’s commander, serving from 1862-64, and General Benjamin Butler, who ran for president in 1880 on the Greenback ticket, and General John Adams Dix, 1861 Secretary of the Treasury, future NY Governor, Senator, and U.S. Minister to France, plus Generals Bank, Pope, Burnside, Flag Officer of the US Navy, Admiral Dupont, etc.

Perhaps the most interesting inclusion, two spaces below Lincoln, then two to the right, is the image of “Major General Grant,” the war’s final U.S. Army commander, hero, and two-term President of the United States. The man pictured isn’t actually Ulysses S. Grant at all, but a long-bearded beef contractor by the name of William Grant, who, wearing a Union Army uniform, happens to have strolled into the same, Cairo, Illinois photography studio, on the same day, in 1861, as the newly-appointed Brigadier General, who had just transferred to a new command in the city. Being more stately appearance and posture, taller and more general-like, the image of Bill Grant got mistakenly distributed as that of Ulysses. Because he had just made his mark, forcing an unconditional surrender of Confederate troops at Ft. Donelson, he was basically unknown. Eager for images of the newcomer, whose success continued, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Harper’s Weekly, and many others continued to publish the photo for a couple of years, sometimes alternatively using a correct one. Bill Grant’s uniform was actually doctored in the photo by some publishers, adding shoulder bars with 2 stars to illustrate the future president’s 1862 promotion to Major General. The image used on the chess board includes the added bars and title. It is rumored that when Grant’s wife, Julie, saw the picture, she at once demanded that he trim his beard. Obviously not him—Grant, for one, had no receding hairline at the time—this was either a tall tale or a light-hearted jest. The truth remains unknown, and Julie’s letters to him, unfortunately, do not survive.

It is of interest to note that other versions of the extremely rare board are known. One of these, about half the size, bears a black border. Another is brown. Sometimes groups of photos such as this can lend insight with respect to a date of manufacture, if, for example, generals that became famous in the latter part of the war are present or omitted. I have experienced this with playing cards, for example. In the case of Hill’s National Chess Board, I could make no such observation that would be helpful to one version vs. another. All three illustrate an incorrect and modified image of Grant. Although the distribution of photos is different across the three, with some substitutions, absent are the major personalities of William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan, that would be theoretically difficult to exclude after 1862. This, in-and-of-itself, points to early war production for all 3 versions. The black-wrapped board includes an image of George Washington, which, while notable and fun to see, provides no real help in dating. Another version, wrapped in green leather, intermingles Civil War generals with all sorts of historical personalities. These range from various other presidents beyond Lincoln and Washington, to famous authors, to Benjamin Franklin and Sam Houston.

No other Hill-produced boards are known with pieces likely to have been sold with it, nor with anything that comes close to equaling those that accompany this one. It is of further interest to note that a period, Civil War photograph survives of what appears to quite possibly be an identical set, actually in use, in camp, by officers of the 164th New York Volunteers.

Mounting: The pieces have been mounted using a combination of hand-stitching and gentle tension, executed in such a way as to be safely and readily removed if at some point someone wishes to undo the process. The board was recessed to hold it in position. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. A shadowbox was created to accommodate the depth. The deep, custom-made, shadowbox molding is solid mahogany with a black-painted, matte/satin surface. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas).

Condition: Two of the flags were absent. Duplicates were cast from the existing in resin. The same was done to replace the head of a pawn. One or two others had split heads, which were amended for repair and the above was expertly painted to match. Some pieces had loose joints. A couple of these were carefully drilled and a wire post was inserted. A small amount of glue was used to stabilize, being very mindful to keep this to a bare minimum. The noses of two of the knights have losses (left as-is). There are other minor losses, but the overall condition of this complete set is simply nothing short of remarkable, and if handled respectfully, the pieces are in such a state that they could definitely be used for gaming without concern. The board has moderate to significant fading, a couple of bleached spots, a crack along one edge, just inside the leather, and separations in the binding.
Primary Color: red, white, black, brown
Earliest Date: 1862
Latest Date: 1865
For Sale Status: Available
Price Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281
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