The 1920s saw the world mesmerized by the discovery of the tomb of the young Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamun (c. 1341 – c. 1323 B.C.). Collector Eduardo Bauza suggests that this fascination perhaps led the Soviets to name this exotic chess set “Egyptian,” an act notable because they seldom named sets. Here is a beautiful specimen of a presumably later version of the set presented by collector and dealer Valerii Krasnykov.
The “white” army is sometimes finished with a red-brown varnish. These are presumably the earlier versions of the set.
At least one specimen of this interesting design has survived with its original cardboard box, providing us valuable information as to who made these sets.
The label tells us the design’s name, Egyptian, and the set’s manufacturer, Khalturin Kirov region industrial artel “MYUD.” Unlike many artels, which remain shrouded in mystery, MYUD’s history has been documented. MYUD was formed in Khalturin in the 1930s, and its name is an acronym for International Youth Day. Among its first products were caskets, cigarette cases, and wooden pipes made of wood and burls. By 1939 it was producing chess pieces. Around 1960, when the last artels were being sunset, MYUD merged with the artel Sila, founded in 1925. The merged entity was reorganized as a state factory under the name Khalturinskaya Factory of Religious Goods.
The design bucks the Soviet trend towards simplification. All the bases are topped with pronounced pedestals from which the the stems of the royals, clerics, and pawns rest, as do the knights’ torsos and the rooks’ towers. The stems rise vertically, themselves topped with pedestals upon which the piece signifiers sit, attached by a connector defined by two collars, the bottom one slightly smaller in diameter than the pedestal but noticeably larger than the top collar. The proliferation of pedestals and collars hearkens back to various pre-Staunton designs. The kings are 9.5-9.7 cm. tall. The pieces are unweighted and appear to be made of linden wood, commonly known as basswood in North America.
The knights are large, as tall as the bishops, and quite wide. They incorporate the CV spine/chest shape typical of Soviet knights. The ears alertly perk forward. The angle of the ears essentially follows the curve of the back as they extend upward.
In at least some reddish-brown, presumably earlier versions, the ears distinctly angle up from the spine’s curve. Here are specimens from Vikham Ravi’s collection.
The Artel MYUD Egyptian set may have bucked the Soviet trend of simplification, but it illustrated well the richness and diversity of Soviet chess design of the 1930s and 1940s.