The Chess Set of Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod, circa 1818-1822

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This chess set belonged to Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) James Tod (1782-1835), a famous personality in India and Great Britain in the early 19th century. He was a British East India Company officer Indian historian. In 1799 he went to India as a cadet in the Bengal army; from 1812 to 1817 he commanded the escort attached to the resident with Sindhia. In the latter year he was in charge of the intelligence Department which largely contributed to break up the Maratha Confederacy in the Third Anglo-Maratha War and was of great assistance in the campaign in Rajputana. In 1818 he was appointed political agent for the states of western Rajputana where he conciliated the chieftains, settled their mutual feuds, and collected materials for his famous book on Rajasthan (Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, 2 volumes). Another book, "Travels in Western India," was published posthumously.

Recently James Tod was the focus of new attention (see the book "James Tod's Rajasthan" edited by G. Tillotson ISBN 10: 81-85026-80-7).

The chess set itself is a semi-figural type made of bone decorated inter alia with small glass beads, silver, lacquer and pearls. The colors are dark red versus dark green. Height of king 14,2 cm (approx 5.5"), diameter of base 5 cm (approx. 1.9"). The set is of pedestal type with human "king" and "queen", horse, camel and elephant major pieces, with non-figural pawns. The pedestals are decorated with polychrome glass beads and pearls.

The kings have an inscription on a silver panel in Devanagari script:
Green king ("A"):"Shri Thakur Sahib Shyam Singhji" (= the Governor of Amet); Red king ("B"): "Tikana Amet Mulk Mewar" (= the District Amet of the State of Mewar).

The set came in its original compartmentalised wooden chest with brass handles and fittings and with two layers. The spaces for the individual pieces are covered in green cloth with blue cushions for the shorter pawns to make it easier to extract them. A miniature painting with inscriptions depict the original scene.

The translation of the inscription on the miniature is: "Thakur Sahib Shyam Singhji Sundavat (family name) and Captain Tod Sahib playing chess at Tikana Amet. Artist Chagni Ram made it and gifted it to Tod when he went to Amet."

The inscription matches that on the two kings and therefore the game is conceived to be between the Thakur and Captain Tod, the latter representing the state as the red king.

As commemorated in the miniature inscription, the chess set was presented to Tod when he visited Amet sometime between 1818 and 1822. The gift is a clear expression of the regard Tod enjoyed in Rajasthan. The Thakur of Amet at his visit had this chess set specially made where he himself was the green king, the Thakur of Amet, and his guest seen as representing the British with responsibility for the district of Amet. The gift, most unusually, was emphasised by a miniature depicting the two men actually playing chess together which was painted at the time by an Amet artist to be incorporated in the box.

The chess set came with a textile board with pale pink and brown velvet squares with embroidered gold-thread margins showing peacocks and floral themes. I don't know if the board is original to the set.

Click here for my Picasa album with photos of this set