The legendary Isle of Lewis Chessmen set has always been a fan favorite. Whether you’re a hardcore chess fan or simply appreciate good art, the Lewis Chessmen set will grab your attention.
Despite the many replicas of this chess set, the best Isle of Lewis Chess Set is the one sold at the British Museum. It’s the closest replica of the original Isle of Lewis Chessmen pieces showcased at the museum.
If you’re unfamiliar with their riveting history, let’s get you up to speed with the story behind the Lewis Chessmen.
What Is the Isle of Lewis Chess Set?
In 1831, a hoard of 93 ancient chessmen pieces was discovered on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland—hence the name. These pieces are believed to be created in Trondheim, Norway, during the 12th century.
Each piece was carved out of walrus ivory to create a unique design for the famous chessmen, except for the pawns. The kings were always seated with a sword across their lap. Queens also sat on their thrones and cradled their faces in their palms.
Bishops held a staff called a crosier in their hand. Knights were mounted on their horses with spears and shields in their hands. Last but not least, the rooks are represented as savage berserkers, with one of the rooks digging his teeth into his metal shield.
The characters of these pieces are thought to resemble the Viking age, especially those of the kings and queens who showcase 12th-century royalty.
As of 1888, 82 pieces of the hoard are showcased at the British Museum, with six of them lent to the Museum nan Eilean on the Isle of Lewis. The other 11 pieces are housed at the National Museum of Scotland.
How Popular Is the Isle of Lewis Chess Set?
Either because of their one-of-a-kind design or the fascinating story behind them, the Isle of Lewis chessmen pieces are now one of the most popular chess sets in the world of chess.
The history of these pieces has inspired many stories, such as a well-known Gaelic legend called An Gille Ruadh—which means The Red Gillie in English.
The story of this legend is set in the 17th century when a servant saw a sailor fleeing his ship with a bag of treasure. Among that treasure was the hoard.
The sailor was then killed for his treasure, but the servant couldn’t collect any of the pieces and was later punished with a death sentence for his crime. This story shows how much the hoard has become an essential part of the folklore of Ùig and its people.
Other than stories and legends, these historical chess pieces had their cinematic debut in 2001 when they were featured in the first movie of the famous Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
They appear when Harry and Ron were sitting together and playing a game of wizard chess on a magical chessboard. In the enchanted version of chess, the pieces would move on their own to fiercely tackle their opponents when it was time to take their opponent’s position.
What’s the Best Isle of Lewis Chess Set?
There are many versions of the Isle of Lewis chess set. All of these replicate the original pieces found on the Isle of Lewis but with minor differences. We’ve gathered three of the most popular Isle of Lewis Chessmen replicas for you to choose from.
1. The Authentic Replica: Lewis Chessmen Chess Set at the British Museum
The Lewis Chessmen chess set sold at the British Museum in London is the closest true-to-size replica to the original chessmen pieces.
It comes in white and red, just like the original pieces showcased at the museum, and every single piece on either side of the board has a unique design.
The set comes with a wooden board with a veneer finish to give the board a luxurious shine. This board doubles as a box to store your special pieces in until your next game.
The best thing about this set is that you get to have your own authentic replica of the actual pieces housed at the museum. For that reason, this set is considered the best Isle of Lewis chess set you could get.
2. The Modernized Replica: Isle of Lewis Chessmen by the National Museum of Scotland
This replica is also very close to the original pieces, but it has a few slight variations.
First of all, the pieces are colored white and black, or dark brown, similar to the traditional chess pieces. This color code doesn’t represent the actual color of the original white and red chessmen pieces.
The second major difference is that the pieces are duplicated, so you don’t get much variety in the designs.
However, some people prefer this version over the one sold at the British Museum. They either prefer the black or dark brown pieces over the red ones, or they enjoy the symmetry of the pieces on both sides.
3. The Affordable Replica: The Isle of Lewis and Wenge Mini Chess and Draughts Set
If you’re looking for a simple and affordable version of the Isle of Lewis Chessmen, then this set is perfect for you. Not only does it look like the one sold at the National Museum in Scotland, but it also doubles as a draught set.
The draught pieces that come with this set are designed to match the historic aesthetic of the Lewis Chessmen pieces. That way, you get two games for the price of one!
Isle of Lewis Chessmen is a unique set of chess pieces that carries so much history behind it.
We may know a few things about them for sure, but there’s so much more that’s left untold. The mystery behind those pieces is one of the main things that fueled its popularity.
Whether you’re looking for a historically accurate, authentic set or you want one that slightly resembles our modern-day chess game, you’re sure to find the perfect Isle of Lewis chess set that matches your taste and makes you happy.