Object of the Week

Jet Chessboard

This magnificent chessboard was designed and made by John Sherwood (b.1846) in his workshop at 101 Church Street, Whitby. It was started in 1895 with the intention of exhibiting it at a celebration for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee two years later. However, the splendid design and magnificent craftsmanship took twice as long as expected and it was not completed until 1899. Instead it was displayed at the Glasgow Exhibition in 1901.

It was described as ‘the crowning triumph of the jet age – the most beautiful object of it’s kind ever made’.

Three jet chessboards are known to have been made in Whitby. The whereabouts of the first of 1853 are not known, the third is also in the care of Whitby Museum. However, this is by far the most stunning example. The black squares are composed of plain highly polished jet, while each white square is formed of perfectly matched, Whitby ammonites lying in an unpolished square of jet. Strips of ivory define each square perfectly.

The square board is centred within a substantial oval of jet with a bevelled edge lined top and bottom with identically cut bead like pieces of jet. The two end semicircles of the piece contain hundreds of identically faceted squares of jet. Around the border there are magnificent figures carved in relief of gods, goddesses and people from mythology including; Apollo, god of the arts and prophecy; Pan, the half goat god of shepherds and nymphs; Cybele, goddess of nature; Ajax, warrior of Troy and Hercules the Greek hero to name but a few. It is easy to understand why this stunning work of art took so long to create

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