A “Leningrad Schoolboy” Set from Artel Vsekokhudozhnik

One of the things I like about writing for this website and managing the Facebook group Shakhmatnyye Kollektsionery is how posts often generate discussion and further discoveries. So it was with our recent article on The Ubiquitous Soviet Upright Pieces of Artel Vsekokhudozhnik.

St. Petersburg collector and researcher Sergey Kovalenko has reviewed his archives and found a second well-known set likely manufactured by Vsekokhudozhnik. The set had been sold some time ago by an Etsy and eBay dealer known as Antikvar to a buyer unknown at this writing. Sergey kept photos from the set’s listing for his archives. He has generously shared them with us.

The label appears identical to that found in Mykhailo Kovalenko’s specimen discussed here. The top line recites the name of the artel; the middle line appears to give its address. The bottom line describes the contents: Chess (set or pieces) No. 4, presumably indicating their suitability for play on a board with 40 mm squares.

The pieces are easily recognizable and fairly common today, and generally are considered to come from the late 1930s or pre-war 1940s. Arlindo Vieira described them in 2012 as “Soviet Championship” pieces of the 1950s and 1960s, but we now know that the championship sets sharing many of this set’s design elements were from the BFII family. Russian collectors refer to the design as the “Leningrad Schoolboy” set as it is found in photographs of Leningrad schoolboys playing with them. Here is one such photo from the St. Petersburg Archives provided by Sergey.

Leningrad, c. 1937. St. Petersburg Archives. Photographer unknown.

As Moscow collector Alexander Chelnokov informs us, many of the known specimens of the “Leningrad Schoolboy” design were sold from Leningrad. Others have been sold from Ukraine. Sergey tells us that the photographic record shows them being played with in locations other than Leningrad.

Whether all of the “Leningrad Schoolboy” sets were made by Artel Vsekokhudozhnik in Moscow and sold elsewhere I cannot say. One respected dealer from Kiev suggested to me that this design was manufactured in multiple locations. Inasmuch as there is no hard evidence that any entity other than Vsekokhudozhnik produced them, and that I know of only three surviving Vsekokhudozhnik boxes, I am hard-pressed to dismiss the Antikvar specimen as a case of a box mismatched with a set of pieces. I cannot dismiss the possibility that the sets were made in Moscow and transported to Leningrad and elsewhere for sale and use. At the same time, I find the suggestion of multiple points of production to be plausible. As with so many other issues involving Soviet chess sets, more research and evidence are needed.

Here are photos from a specimen in my collection, which I obtained without an original box from Ukraine.

My specimen has 87.5 mm kings. The pieces are unweighted, and have cloth bottoms.

Updated 28 February 2023

Author: Chuck Grau

I'm a chess collector, chess player, and retired attorney. I've been collecting Soviet and Russian chess sets since 2014. I'm interested in their history, design, and the people who made and played with them.

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