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Isle of Lewis Chess Sets

Isle of Lewis Chess Sets

The Isle of Lewis chessmen stand as one of the most captivating and historically significant sets of chess pieces in the world, combining exquisite craftsmanship with an enthralling backstory. Originating from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, these chess pieces, carved from walrus ivory and whales' teeth, date back to the 12th century, making them a remarkable relic of medieval European history. Renowned for their distinctive Norse-Viking artistry, the sets feature unique figurative pieces, including kings, queens, bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns, each character brimming with personality and intricate detail.

The originals


Historical Significance of the Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces

Discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, the Isle of Lewis chess pieces have become treasured items within the collections of the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Their finding illuminated the extent of Norse influence in Scotland and the interconnectedness of medieval European cultures. Believed to have been crafted in Norway, these artifacts highlight the Vikings' far-reaching cultural and economic interactions during that era. The circumstances surrounding their discovery—whether by a local farmer or unearthed by a cow in a sand dune—add an element of mystery to their history. Consisting of 93 pieces, believed to be part of at least four separate chess sets, their rarity and historical value are unmatched.


Exceptional Craftsmanship and Design

The craftsmanship and design of the original pieces are exceptional, showcasing the expertise of Norse artisans. With expressive faces, detailed clothing patterns, and poses that reflect their roles and status, the chessmen stand as a testament to the advanced artistry of the time. These pieces, used both as game components and as independent art objects, offer insight into the medieval world. Their influence extends into modern culture, notably appearing in "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone," and being featured in exhibitions and tours that draw attention, particularly when displayed in their homeland of Scotland.


Cultural Symbolism and Contemporary Influence

Chess, an important aspect of Norse culture symbolizing strategy and foresight, is vividly represented through each piece's design, from the authoritative kings and queens to the modest pawns, reflecting the social and military hierarchy of the time. The intricate work, necessitating specialized techniques for carving walrus ivory and whale teeth, underlines the Norse craftsmen's skill. While not officially recognized by UNESCO, these chess pieces are globally acknowledged as significant cultural treasures, emblematic of Norse craftsmanship and medieval European history. Museums that house these pieces engage the public through interactive programs, workshops, and lectures, celebrating the rich legacy of the Isle of Lewis chess sets. 


Our Replicas


Variations and Materials

While the original pieces were made from walrus ivory and whales' teeth, our reproductions are handcrafted from stone resin, replicating the look and feel of the ancient walrus ivory whilst also making them accessible to a wide range of collectors and players. These contemporary sets maintain the historical and artistic integrity of the originals, with detailed attention to the portrayal of each figure, making them suitable for both display and play. The variety available ensures that there is a set to meet different tastes and budgets.


Our Isle of Lewis range embodies a fascinating blend of history, art, and the enduring appeal of the game of chess. Their unique origins, remarkable craftsmanship, and the story they tell of Norse culture and medieval life make them a treasured choice for collectors, historians, and chess enthusiasts. Owning one of the sets is more than just owning a chess set; it's an investment in a piece of history, a work of art that bridges centuries and cultures.

FAQ: Isle of Lewis

What are Lewis chessmen?

The original Lewis chessmen comprises of distinctive medieval chess pieces discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Made from walrus ivory and whales' teeth, these pieces are notable for their unique design, reflecting Norse culture. They are believed to have been crafted in the 12th century in Norway.

Where were the original Lewis pieces found?

The original pieces were found buried in a sand dune near Uig on the Isle of Lewis in 1831. The find consisted of 93 artifacts, including 78 chess pieces, 14 tablemen, and one belt buckle.

What makes the Lewis pieces unique?

Their uniqueness lies in their historical significance, age, and distinctive Norse-Viking artistry. Each piece is characterized by detailed craftsmanship, with human figures showcasing a range of emotions, making them stand out from other medieval chess pieces.

How should I care for my replica Lewis chessmen?

The care for your chess set depends on the material. Stone resin sets should be kept out of direct sunlight to prevent discoloration and can be cleaned with a soft, damp cloth. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials for cleaning them.

Are the replicas as detailed as the original pieces?

Our high-quality replicas aim to capture the intricate details of the original pieces as closely as possible. The British made replicas are made from moulds using crushed stone resin and then detailed, painted and polished by hand to provide the realistic accuracy.