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Isle of Lewis Chessmen: Official Chess Set

Updated on August 14, 2015
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What a great gift for the chess player

Or for an art-lover. Or for an historian. The Isle of Lewis Chessmen are fascinating for any number of reasons and this official set, featuring faithful replicas of the original pieces, makes a wonderful gift - or even a treat for yourself. It also looks so attractive in the home, especially in your study or library.

My brother, the chess master

I gave this set to my brother last year on his birthday. When he was a boy, my dad taught him to play chess and he loved it. I was (and still am, of course) six years older than my baby brother and I admit that chess was pretty boring for me after half an hour or so. Hey, I was fourteen - I had other things to do at that age.

Next generation

So last year, my brother told me that he was teaching his own son to play chess and the lad apparently is following in his father's footsteps because he really enjoys the game too. The problem was though, that they had a cheap, plastic chess set and I think the game deserves something more stylish.

It had to be this one

Both my brother and I are British and living in the States and I thought it would be a great idea if I could find a British-made set for him. I thought that something traditional would be wonderful. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered seeing part of a medieval chess set in the British Museum. I remembered some story that they had been discovered in the middle of the nineteenth century in a medieval grave in a remote Scotland island ... by a cow. (Actually, the cow story was later disproved - but I liked it).

Leaving the cow story aside

It is true that the original chessmen, probably made in Norway and mostly from walrus ivory, were discovered in a remote area of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland and are thought to date from the twelfth century.


The National Museum of Scotland

This organization, along with the British Museum in London, is home to these chess pieces and these chessmen are official in that they are sold by the museum and created from laser scans taken from the originals.

And they make me laugh

See the photographs below - the chess pieces are almost like cartoons.

In fact, in the 1960s there was a children's cartoon on British television called Noggin the Nog and the characters were based on the Lewis chessmen - and yes, my brother loved the gift!

Additional ideas and benefits

These make such a wonderful gift for a special person. It is this type of product that will become a family heirloom and be passed down through the generations.

These are truly a piece of history.The fact that they come from the British Museum also creates a certain caché that you just wouldn't find with most other gift ideas. They are so beautifully presented, too.

Luckily, they can be ordered online and delivered to anywhere in the world - the British Museum's superior products are no longer available just for those who live in the United Kingdom. Now, they are available for all.


This is a fascinating full-length documentary about the pieces - see them as they are today on display in London. The detail is amazing. If you're buying this chess set as a gift, you can discover some amazing facts in this video that your recipient will enjoy.

The video below is part one - part two should show up in the related videos at the end.

Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size

© 2013 Jackie Jackson

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    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 

      5 years ago from US/TN

      Those are neat! I used to play chess as a teen but I haven't played it in ages.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @lesliesinclair: Curious because they are my favorites too. It's a lovely set with such a wonderful story behind it.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 

      5 years ago

      My favorites are the figures with a hand on their face. Such detailed carving with such variety of expression and appearance. I've been thinking lately about learning to play chess.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Coffee-Break: Gorgeous, isn't it? And such a wonderful history.

    • Coffee-Break profile image

      Dorian Bodnariuc 

      5 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      That is a beautiful chess set. I love how the pawns are actually tombstones.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @sousababy: Thank you.They are really gorgeous and have a wonderful story behind them.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 

      5 years ago

      One thing about chess sets - they never go out of style. Great review!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      5 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      A beautiful set! I'd love one just for my self

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