Chess is a pivotal theme in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, from the red and white kings, queens and knights that come to life with capricious and confounding vitality to the landscape that mirrors the game’s board – set out in squares. So it was with considerable delight that Jake Fior, a dealer in rare books and antique objects (with a particular focus on Alice first editions and vintage interpretations of the stories), made a surprising discovery in the summer of 2011. He had found a rare Through the Looking Glass chessboard, hand-painted by none other than Sir John Tenniel, whose illustrations featured in the original edition of the book.
Working with highly skilled English artisans, Fior and Jo Humphris – co-founder of Alice Through the Looking Glass Ltd – have produced a limited edition of 150 replica chessboards (£3,500), available from Monday November 12, but for which there is already a waiting list. Renowned and respected silk-screen company Jealous Print devised a way to recreate the 16 illustrations, while craftsman Jonathan Walker hand-cut the marquetry detailing in English sycamore and walnut woods. Watercolour artist Kate Hepburn hand-painted the pictures, and gilder Ken Brookes finished each board in 16.5ct gold leaf. Each board takes about three weeks to complete. The accompanying chess pieces are hand-carved and based on the original St George pattern, which inspired Tenniel’s illustrations.
Humphris describes the boards as “enchanting”, and says, “Sometimes you are meant to find an object and sometimes an object is meant to find you” – a sentiment of which Lewis Carroll, nay Alice herself, would no doubt have approved.