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Isle of Lewis Chessmen

Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces

The Isle of Lewis chessmen are among the most famous and intriguing historical chess pieces in the world. Unearthed in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, these chess pieces date back to the 12th century and are believed to have been crafted in Norway, showcasing the close historical ties between the Nordic countries and Scotland during the Viking Age.



Replicas like our own allow for anybody to own a piece of history, making the remarkable craftsmanship and intriguing stories of the Isle of Lewis chessmen accessible to enthusiasts and collectors worldwide. These replicas are crafted with attention to detail, aiming to faithfully reproduce the unique characteristics and expressions of the original pieces. Through these replicas, the legacy of the Isle of Lewis chessmen continues to live on, bridging the gap between the past and the present.

The Craftsmanship of Replicas

The production of replicas involves meticulous research and skilled craftsmanship to ensure that each piece accurately reflects the artistry of the original chessmen. Using high-quality materials, modern replicas are created through a combination of traditional sculpting techniques and contemporary methods. This approach ensures that the replicas not only look like their historic counterparts but also feel substantial and durable in the hand.

Educational and Decorative Value

Owning a set of Isle of Lewis chessmen replicas offers more than just the opportunity to play chess; it provides a tangible connection to medieval history and art. These replicas serve as educational tools, sparking interest in the history of chess, the Viking Age, and medieval art among players and spectators. Furthermore, they make for stunning decorative pieces, adding a touch of historical elegance to any setting.

The Originals

Historical Significance

Comprising 93 artefacts, the collection includes not only chess pieces but also 14 table men and a buckle, with the chess pieces themselves representing kings, queens, bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns. Made predominantly from walrus ivory and whale teeth, these chessmen are renowned for their distinctive artistic style, characterized by intricate details and expressive faces. Their discovery remains one of the most significant archaeological finds, shedding light on the spread of chess into Europe and its popularity during the medieval period.

The chessmen are thought to have been buried for safekeeping on their way from Norway to Ireland. This theory is supported by the fact that some pieces were later found missing, suggesting they were likely part of a larger hoard. The craftsmanship and material suggest that these pieces were high-status objects, possibly owned by a wealthy individual or family.

Artistic and Cultural Value

The Isle of Lewis chessmen are not just historical artefacts; they are masterpieces of medieval art. Each piece is unique, with its character and expression, from the pensive kings and queens to the distinctively shaped bishops and the intricately carved knights and rooks. The level of detail in these pieces reflects the high artistic standards of the time and provides invaluable insight into the medieval society that created them.

These chessmen are celebrated not only for their historical and artistic value but also for their contribution to our understanding of medieval European chess. The game itself was still relatively new to Europe at the time these pieces were created, and their design reflects a mix of cultural influences, including Scandinavian, Scottish, and possibly Celtic motifs.

Current Holdings

The majority of the Isle of Lewis chessmen are held in the British Museum in London, with a significant minority in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. These institutions provide a public home where these treasures can be appreciated by visitors from around the world.

For those interested in exploring these pieces further, the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland offer extensive resources and exhibitions. The British Museum's collection can be explored online at British Museum - Isle of Lewis Chessmen, providing a wealth of information about the history and significance of these pieces. Similarly, the National Museum of Scotland provides detailed insights into their collection of these chessmen.


The Isle of Lewis chessmen remain a fascinating link to the past, representing a confluence of history, art, and the universal appeal of chess. Their discovery has captivated historians, artists, and chess enthusiasts alike, offering a glimpse into the medieval world that is as educational as it is enchanting. These pieces continue to inspire admiration and curiosity, securing their place as one of the most significant historical chess finds in the world.

FAQ: Replicas of Isle of Lewis Chessmen

What materials are used in the replicas?

Our Isle of Lewis chessmen replicas are primarily made from high-quality resin or crushed stone, chosen for their durability and ability to capture the intricate details of the original pieces. Some premium replicas may also be crafted from materials like wood or stone to offer a more authentic feel.

How accurate are these replicas to the original pieces?

The replicas are crafted to closely mimic the size, design, and intricate details of the original Isle of Lewis chessmen. We strive for accuracy by referencing high-quality photographs and descriptions from authoritative sources. While they are not identical, due to the unique handcrafted nature of the originals, they offer a faithful representation.

Do the replicas come as a full chess set?

The replicas that we sell come in both full sets and as pieces. This allows for you to buy the pieces for decorative purposes, to pair with a board of your own preference, or as a complete set if you prefer. We also have an Isle of Lewis gift set which contains 6 larger scale replicas, perfect as an ornament.

Can I play chess with these replicas?

Absolutely. The replicas are designed not just for display but also for gameplay. They meet the standard sizes for chess pieces, making them suitable for use with a standard chessboard (not included with the pieces).

How should I care for my replica chessmen?

To maintain the condition of your replica Isle of Lewis chessmen, keep them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Dust them gently with a soft brush or cloth. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that could damage the finish.

FAQ: Original Isle of Lewis Chessmen

Where were the original Isle of Lewis chessmen found?

The original chessmen were discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. They were found buried within a stone chamber at Uig on the west coast of the island.

How old are the Isle of Lewis chessmen?

The chessmen are believed to have been made in the 12th century, making them over 800 years old. They are considered one of the most significant archaeological finds from the Viking Age.

Why are they important?

The Isle of Lewis chessmen are crucial for understanding the history of chess in Europe and the cultural exchanges between the Norse and Celtic worlds during the medieval period. Their detailed craftsmanship also provides insights into the art and society of the 12th century.

Where can I see the original pieces?

The majority of the original pieces are housed in the British Museum in London, with a significant number also in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. These institutions occasionally lend pieces for exhibitions elsewhere, so it's worth checking their current displays.

Are all the original pieces accounted for?

No, not all the original pieces are accounted for. The chessmen were likely part of at least four sets, but not all pieces of these sets have been found. This has led to speculation and research about the missing pieces and their potential locations.