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Equally creative were countries on the Mediterranean and in Central Europe.Sets were made of different porcelains, Venetian and Murano glass, ivory and various woods, amber and fine metals. Russia produced more than Faberge and propaganda sets, including many wooden ones with peasants dressed in traditional costumes.

India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and China produced many sets, most often ivory, and most often for the European market. Hong Kong artisans even targeted Britain and France, offering sets where the king was Napoleon or the British monarch. But these countries also incorporated symbols of local life.The Indian John set, for instance, one of today’s rarest and most valuable, includes elephants, chariots, juggernaut carts, lions and rhinoceroses.

The Western Hemisphere has not been without creativity, and Mr. Dean devotes a chapter to its sets.Most interesting in my view are modern designs in the 20th and 21st centuries.They tend to lack the intricate beauty of antique sets, but many nevertheless are elegant, even mesmerizing, mixing cylinders, curves and angles with varying colors and materials.

“Chess Masterpieces” is a biblio gem.It combines a valuable historical discussion of the development of chess with a truly invaluable pictorial record of the progression of chess sets.By presenting the beauty, diversity and history of chess sets as well as the game of chess, George Dean shows how one of the world’s most common games has become an important force of artistic development.

When not writing about policy for the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow, Doug Bandow, a member of Chess Collectors International, often is visiting antique shops or looking online in an attempt to augment his chess set collection.