Snapshots from the Tucson 2004 Gem and Mineral Show
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While browsing the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at the Vagabond Plaza Hotel I came across some very unique chess sets which were shown and offered by Boris Matsanov of Mammothfossil, Inc. in a large tent set up in the courtyard of the Vagabond Plaza. While I haven't been active for some years, I used to be an avid chess player, so of course I had to check out these one-of-a-kind sets, which are all carved from Mammoth ivory.

Boris explained that the design of this set incorporates a good verses evil theme from mythology of native people from Siberia. The finely carved ivory pieces are set atop wood bases. Represented on one side are characters from our world which are depicted above, and on the other side are characters from the underworld which are depicted below.

The kings and queens in this set, pictured above left and below left, are about 4 inches high. Shown above right and below are the bishop, knight and rook pieces from each side. Pictured at right is an overview of the set and one of the raptors serving as pawns.

For $6,500 you can play out that never ending struggle between good and evil with this set in the comfort of your own home. The only question is, do you take the good guys, or the bad guys...

Depicted above left and right are the pieces on each side of another one-of-a-kind set with serious "presence". This set of finely carved pieces is gargantuan as chess sets go, with the kings towering at about 8.5 inches high. The pedestals under each carving are fashioned from jade and feature gold and silver plated accents. This set requires a board measuring about a meter across each edge to deploy these pieces and play them. The theme incorporated in the pieces of this set is the present verses the past. On one side are now extinct mammals which flourished during the Pleistocene, on the other are modern mammals from Africa.

Shown above left are the bishop, knight and rook pieces from the modern mammals side. Above right is a closer shot of the detail on an elephant carving serving as a bishop on the modern mammals side.

Pictured above left are the king and queen pieces from the Pleistocene mammals side and shown above right are the bishop, knight and rook pieces from the Pleistocene mammals side.

Shown at left is a close view with detail from one of the saber tooth renderings serving as pawns from the Pleistocene mammals side. Hey check out the bow ties... Below is a closer view of detail from the mammoth king from the Pleistocene mammals side. This one-of-a-kind work of art set wants $25,000 to go home.

So which side would you you pick to win? I note that neither chess or evolution are contests of brute strength. Are extant mammals "smarter" or "fitter" than their now extinct ancestors? There is an anthropomorphic tendency to attribute some kind of superior status to extant life over extinct life which I believe ignores the truth of evolution and the history of life on Earth. Life is what life is, because the Earth is what it is. As the Earth changes, what life is changes with it. It's the rocks that are really running the show. Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it... ;)

The set shown above and below also features a Pleistocene theme with carved pieces fashioned after now extinct mammals. Shown above left is an overview of the set, with a king mammoth depicted above right and a queen mammoth depicted at left. This set incorporates similar pieces on both sides, which are distinguished by the color of their bases. The king mammoths are about 2 inches high.

Shown above left is a bishop and above right is a knight from the Pleistocene mammals set. Shown below left is a rook and below right is a pawn piece from the Pleistocene mammals set. This set wants $3000. Boris mentioned there is also a larger version of this set available featuring pieces about double the size of this one, which was with them at the Show but is shown on the Mammothfossil, Inc. web site.

Pictured above and at left is yet another unique set featuring carved mammoth ivory pieces fashioned after dwarfs and elves from Russian mythology. The king and queen figures from this set are also about 2 inches high. They sit atop an inlaid board fashioned from wood, which forms the top of a storage cabinet for the pieces. The board on this set measures about 8 inches by 10 inches. This set was wanting $1300.

Depicted above and at left is the smallest set shown by Mammothfossil Inc., which was truly minuscule. The board for this monkey theme set measured a scant 3.5 inches on an edge. That is a dime providing scale in the overview picture of this set at left. The king monkeys on this set are about 3/8 inch high.

Considering their small size, the detail incorporated on the pieces in this set was amazing and you really had to study them closely to appreciate them. Shown above left is are king and queen monkeys behind pawns in the center of the rear row. Note the baby monkey clinging to the queen. The picture above right shows the bishop, knight and rook monkeys behind pawns in the rear row. This miniature monkey set wanted $500.

Mammothfossil Inc. also showed some Russian mammoth ivory rough. The material depicted above left and right are paired pieces of mammoth tusk intended to serve as upscale custom knife handle grips, although there are of course other possible applications for them. A quarter provides scale. From left to right these grip sets were priced at $100, $100, $100, $60, $30 and $70 respectively.

This Russian mammoth skeleton pictured above left was shown by Mammothfossil as an example of the source of the ivory rough and carved artifacts, art objects and chess sets they sell, as well as an interesting reconstruction and paleontological display in its own right. Boris related that this mammoth fossil is the remains an approximately 50 year old male mammoth recovered in Siberia. This animal stood approximately 3 meters high from head to ground and is regarded as medium sized as mammoths went. Note the interesting dentition in the closer shot of the skull above right. These remains have been dated at 18,000 years old - a mere flash in the pan of geological time.

Shown at left is a closer view of a reproduction of a juvenile mammoth which was shown along side the fossil skeleton of the adult male. The tusks on the juvenile reproduction are genuine mammoth parts with the remainder of this reproduction being created from other materials. Boris related that hair from domesticated yaks was used due to its similar appearance to mammoth hair, which has been recovered along with other mammoth remains found in relatively well preserved condition frozen in the Siberian permafrost.

Mammothfossil, Inc., Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at the Vagabond Plaza Hotel (formerly the Ramada Inn) - WWW: Email: 300 Winston Dr. #2722, Cliffside Park, NJ 07010 - Tel: 201.969.1915 Fax: 201.969.0144

If you are a more casual player and your budget just isn't up to snuff for one-of-a-kind art level sets hand carved from mammoth ivory, but you've been hankering for something with a higher cool factor than that $6.97 injection molded plastic and cardboard set from Walmart you are currently playing on, perhaps these sets with stone pieces and boards shown by Nature's Own at the Sonoran Desert Marketplace will tick your clock. Shown above left is a classic Staunton styled set with a 12 inch board, and above right is a larger version of the same with an 18 inch board. These sets are available with pieces and boards fashioned in various combinations of onyx, picture jasper, marble and spiral shell stone. The 12 inch sets go for $32 and the 18 inch sets go for $50. A sticker on one of them declared "Made in Pakistan".

Nature's Own, Sonoran Desert Marketplace - WWW: Email: 3564 Pearl St., Boulder, Colorado 80301- Tel: 800.213.3241 Fax: 303.444.4260

While taking a break from checking out lapidary tools and equipment at the Tucson Electric Park Show I wandered into Stephen Hamilton's tent where he was showing lapidaried goods. Among his offerings were these onyx chess boards made in Mexico and Pakistan which are pictured above left These boards are 14 inches on edge and priced at $22. Depicted above right is an entire set including onyx pieces, 14 inch board and carry case. These were offered at $45.

Stephen Hamilton, Tucson Electric Park Show - 700 E. Sioux Road #105, Pharr, Texas 78577 - Tel: 956.787.6567 Fax: 956.702.2956

Pictured at left are the kings from a Staunton styled set which I happened upon while checking out some tables covered with malachite rough at the Art Africa and Minerals tent at the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace. This set is fashioned from malachite and a white stone resembling ivory in color and appearance. When I inquired as to the identity of this white material I was informed it was kipushite.

Unfortunately there was some language barrier between the owner and myself which prevented me from learning more about the white pieces, as I was unclear as to whether the the mineral kipushite was a constituent of the white material as is malachite in the green material, or if by "kipushite" he referred to a more generic rock type colloquially named after its locality.

The kings are approximately 3 1/4 inches high. The pieces in this set exhibited notably sharper definition, detail and overall superior craftsmanship and appearance to the pieces in the less expensive onyx, jasper, marble and shell stone sets shown above. Two of these malachite/kipushite sets were available at $200 each. I am partial to playing with Staunton styled pieces of about this size on an 18 inch or so board. These pieces also provide high contrast in color between sides, which is another plus in my book when evaluating the overall practicality and playability of a set.

I'd like to try my own hand at fashioning a chess set some day, although the realities of the time involved in such a project are somewhat intimidating to me. If I ever do attempt a set, the pieces are more likely to be fashioned from a more plastic and faster worked medium such as wax and cast in metal using the lost wax process, or possibly sculpted from clay and fired, than to be carved from stone. If I should resume as an active player in the meanwhile and find myself in need of a stone set, I would find a set like this one difficult to resist.

Art Africa and Minerals Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace (1333 North Oracle Road) - Email: Kabongo Ndiadia, 7653 Ave. Kilwa, Lubumbashi, Rep. of Congo - Phone: 273.9702.5844

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