Antiques Corner by Patrick Van de Vorst

A carved wooden figural chess set
A carved wooden figural chess set

This week we value a carved wooden figural chess set, dating to the early 1960s, depicting the Cuban armed forces, in a fitted leather presentation case with a wooden board.

The chess set was presented by Fidel Castro to Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky, the Soviet defence minister, after the negotiations resulting in the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba, leading ultimately to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Fidel Castro was a known chess enthusiast and was on the organising committee of the 17th Chess Olympiad held in Havana in 1966.

According to the Czech chess grandmaster Ludek Pachman, “In the championships of the cabinet of ministers that were regularly organised at the time, (Castro) always came second, as all the others let him win. The winner of the tournaments was always Che Guevara, the only one who wasn’t afraid of Castro.”

The chess pieces in the set we valued are similar in style to the wood carvings of Anri sets, which are made in Northern Italy and can make £450-£700 at auction. Due to its provenance, this unique chess set is historically significant and would be highly desired by chess and history enthusiasts alike, which is reflected in the higher auction estimate.

Our specialist valued the chess set at beween £1,700 and £3,000.