THE GREAT CHESS LIBRARIES
by Allan Savage, M.L.S., CC-IM
| This was the lecture given June 13, 1998 by CC-IM
Allan Savage at the Thinkers Press Chess Festival held in Moline,
| I am here to tell you that chess databases and
programs are not the ultimate possession! (As if you didnt
Chess players and enthusiasts today are focused on the present
international tournaments, up and coming super GMs, the latest wrinkle
in opening theory. But we must not forget that the present rapidly
becomes the past.
| The history of our game is a literary
More books exist on chess than all other games combined. These
exist in libraries, both public and private. This is the legacy of
our game CAISSAS LEGACY. I am here to encourage you
| Take this statement:
| The preservation of accumulated
is vital to those who come after.
| This is not a quote from a librarian or a
as you might think! It is from one Garry Kasparov in his preface
to the book Petrosians Legacy. Kasparov was relating
strongly Petrosian had felt about communicating his knowledge to those
who would follow him.
| My talk tonight will focus primarily on the three
largest chess libraries in the world, and I will also mention a few
| The largest and most comprehensive collection is
at the Cleveland Public Library in Cleveland, Ohio. The John G.
Collection (chess and checkers) today has over 35,000 volumes and
subscribes to 180 periodicals. Roughly 15 different researchers
each month (some local ones visit several times a week). They
about 10 inquiries by mail/month.
| I submit to you this library is a vastly
resource! I implore you to visit it. The stacks are
for security reasons (thus you cant browse), so you must request
items from the staff. But do not be intimidated by this --
materials are available for browsing in the reading room and the staff
is very helpful. And Cleveland has many unique items found no
else in the world! Some materials are available via interlibrary
| How did such a vast collection arise? It
out of the library of a single collector, John G. White
He viewed chess literature as a educational vehicle where he could learn
about other countries, cultures, and time periods. Through chess
he learned to read at least a little in 29 different languages!
| He had three major book collections: chess,
and orientalia; but the chess collection was his most prized. He
aimed at bibliographic completeness! All editions, all versions,
all languages! He inherited a sizeable chess collection from his
father and then purchased the famous library of George Walker (in
But this was the only complete library he bought, which, as you will
is highly unusual for a major collector. Then, over many years, he
corresponded with dealers and other collectors worldwide to build his
piece by piece.
| At his death in 1928, there were nearly 12,000
on chess (5,000 titles), appraised at $300,000. Most
he left the rest of his estate ($275,000) as a trust fund to maintain
continue the collection. In 1991, the value of that fund was
(which includes a $100,000 donation); at that time its projected yearly
income was in excess of $36,000. This is truly CAISSAS
| The collection now contains over 1,000 original
manuscripts, scrapbooks of about 2000 newspaper columns, thousands
of volumes of chess periodicals, 40 large boxes of uncataloged chess
portrait and autograph collections, 57 incunabula (books printed before
1500) and over 100 chess sets. While the trust fund stipulates no
money can be used for acquiring chess sets, the library has obtained
by donation. The recent exhibition of their complete chess set
is documented in a published catalog.
| The chess collection at the Royal Library at
the Hague, in the Netherlands, is a very close second in size (some
estimates have it larger), but its surely not as comprehensive.
too, was formed from private collections: those of van der Linde (750
in 1876) and Niemeijer (nearly 7000 books in 1948).
| Dr. Niemeijer (1902-1987) started collecting
in 1924 (encouraged and supported by a Mr. Oskam, chess promoter).
Niemeijer bought books frequently at auctions and also acquired many
libraries, attaining 2400 volumes in 9 years! By 1948 he had 7000
volumes and donated his collection to the Royal Library with the
that they publish a catalog, which they did in 1955. He had
about 25 complete libraries, which numbered from a few hundred to 4000
volumes (DeMotta of Brazil). After donating his collection,
continued to add rare older titles and the Library comprehensively
| In an interview in NIC Magazine a year
his death, Niemeijer emphasized the importance of openness and
of significant collections, a trait he shared with John G. White.
He would always welcome visitors into his home to see his library, when
it was still housed there. The chess collection at the Royal
receives about 200 visitors a year, roughly the same as Cleveland.
| Niemeijer was always interested in trading with
other collectors, especially those with major collections. He
a major collection as one with at least a few thousand books! In
that interview, he did mention another major collector named Meissenberg
who had 10,000+ volumes; perhaps this is the next largest private
| Niemeijer was also a problem composer (IM), who
published 30 books on the subject and authored 600 problems. He
the great Netherlands Problem Archives in1925, which has an excess of
| The 3rd largest collection is private: GM
Lothar Schmids is recognized by everyone as the largest personal
in the world. There is no catalog (!) for this collection housed
in 7 rooms on the top 2 floors of his house in Bamberg, Germany.
The ground floor is taken by his publishing business (Karl May-Verlag)
and his living quarters are on the 1st floor. It is said that the
collection looks chaotic, but Lothar knows where to find
| He started collecting in the 1950s, when he was
offered the library of Rogmann. Since then he has bought over 50
other collections including that of Tarrasch! His Incunabula is
It includes one of the 10 extant copies of Lucena (1497) and all eight
editions of Damiano (1512-64).
| For those of you who dont know, Schmid is
the few double GMs: he won the great Dyckhoff Memorial CC tourney in
and finished =2nd with OKelly behind Ragosin in the CC world
of 1958. His strongest OTB years were in the 1960s.
he is a famous International Arbiter, officiating at the 1972
match, the 1978 Karpov-Kortchnoi match, and the 1992 Fischer-Spassky
| What is possibly the 4th largest
in the world is probably unknown to all of you except our special guests
from Australia. The M. V. Anderson Collection, located at the
Library of Victoria in Australia contains approximately 12,000 volumes
and more than 600 periodicals (70 current). Started in 1918 and
to the library in 1956 (1500 volumes). Anderson continued to build the
collection and it stood at more than 6000 volumes at his death in
The library continues acquire everything on chess in English and major
works in other languages.
| I would like to mention a few of the more
public collections in the USA. I have prepared a handout
for you on these, which you can pick up after the lecture. Many of
these are so-called Special Collections which are found in
the Rare Book
Rooms or separate facilities within larger libraries. The May 1998
issue of Biblio has a nice article on some of the unique items in
The Cook and Spackmann Collections at Princeton
| E.B. Cook (1830-1915) was the foremost American
chess problemist of his day. The collection is strong on 16th and
17th century books and US chess history in the 1800s. It was
by Princeton in 1915.
| The Spackmann Collection is post-1915 and is
with chiefly with tournament books and bulletins.
Gladney Collection at Louisiana State University
| Portion of the personal collection of Frank
of Baton Rouge acquired in 1976. It features a deep collection of
material on Paul Morphy, which is probably the best anywhere.
Justice Collection at Colorado College
| Collection of Alfred Justice; acquired in 1957-
gift by his son. Strong on 16th to 19th century works. Includes an
1805 edition of Philidor, which is from Dolly Madisons
Willing Collection at the Free Library in
| Large collection of Charles Willing
A catalog of this collection exists.
Muir-Hoganauer Collection at the University of
| Established in 1971 by CC-IM Walter Muir based on
a consignment, a friends collection, and part of his own
500 items, but later will contain Muirs entire collection.
wanted as much public access as possible so books are split between the
circulating collection and rare book room. Yearly cash gift used
for new books and general maintence.
| Not all current items are cataloged; Muir working
on catalog of entire collection. His pride is a complete run of
| Finally, let me conclude by encouraging you to
building your own collection! Most of you probably have a small
already. Of course, today few can afford to build a general
that is comprehensive, but you CAN SPECIALIZE. Pick a very small
area that interests you and try to build that comprehensively! Get
on dealers mailing lists, browse used and antiquarian bookstores,
friendly with other collectors.