Ivory chess sets have a long and distinguished history, going back nearly to the advent of the game itself. Ivory has been used for many centuries in the construction of chess sets. Some of the earliest chess pieces still in existence are made of ivory.
The British Museum displays a few ivory chess pieces from the 7th and 8th centuries found in modern day Uzbekistan. These ancient chess pieces are in a different form than modern day chess pieces because they come from a time when chess was primarily an Islamic game. The pieces had a much different appearance because they reflected a different society. In the 19th century, Nathaniel Cook and John Jaques created the first set of Staunton chess pieces out of ivory. The Staunton style of chess pieces became the standard that is still in use today.
Ivory is not nearly as common today as it was hundreds of years ago when historical ivory chess sets were made. Now, ivory chess sets are usually only for collectors. Vintage ivory chess sets can sell for many thousands of dollars, while new ivory chess sets rarely sell for under $900. New Ivory chess sets are extremely rare because ivory is much harder to come by. Though ivory was once commonly used in the construction of many objects, it is now rarely used due to animal rights issues and the advent of plastic.
One main reason why ivory is rare now is because many people object to animals such as elephants and mammoths being killed in order to cultivate the ivory from their teeth and tusks. Imitation ivory is a good modern alternative because it is much less expensive and does not use any animal parts.
Ivory chess sets are valuable collector’s items. People often pay thousands of dollars for these rare and historic chess sets.