JACOBUS DE CESSOLIS (fl. late 13th century). De ludo scachorum. [Utrecht: Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt, 1474].
Chancery 2º (263 x 189mm). Collation: [1-58] (1/1r preface, 1/1v text, table of contents, 5/8 blank). 40 leaves, including final blank. 32 lines. 2- to 6-line initial spaces. Type: 1:122G. Strong impressions of the type and of the chase. (Occasional light dust-soiling, light staining in final two quires.) 18th-century marbled paper over flexible pasteboard (tears at spine, lifting at corners). Provenance: occasional corrections and marginal annotations in a contemporary hand – 18th-century shelfmark ‘P.1.7’ – pencil note in English signed ‘G.J.S.’ (or possibly 'G.B.').
A NEWLY DISCOVERED COPY OF THE FIRST LATIN EDITION OF THE FIRST PRINTED WORK ON CHESS. Its discovery brings the number of recorded copies to twelve; and this is the only known copy in private hands. In the 15th century the work was printed in five Latin editions in three locations (Utrecht, Toulouse, Milan), each following a different recension of the text. While all incunable editions are rare, the Latin editions are the rarest, each numbering less than a dozen copies. It was also published in Dutch, German, Italian and English, Caxton's English translation from the French of Jean de Vignay being dated 31 March 1474. At the much earlier period when the Dominican monk, Jacobus de Cessolis, wrote his moral allegory, dated by Murray at between 1275 and 1300, the chess moves were not yet standardised, and the game in Europe differed from region to region. The author’s name probably derives from the district of Cessole in the south of Piedmont, and his work provides remarkable insight into the Lombard version of the game. No account of which members of society actually played chess is given in the four books, but the parallels drawn between the pieces and the genuine social order had such widespread appeal that it circulated in an unprecedented number of manuscripts. The first book touches on the origin of chess and the reasons for its invention which are: ‘to correct the evil manners of the king, to avoid idleness and sadness, and to satisfy the natural desire for novelty by means of the infinite variety of the play’. The next two books explain how the pieces represent different ranks of society; the different social classes are then made the subject of anecdote and illustration, giving the work ‘a vitality that outlasted the variety of chess it describes.’ In the fourth book, concerning the game itself, the chess board is said to represent the city of Babylon, the initial arrangement of the pieces is explained, and there is a detailed description of the moves. The king was allowed to leap to a third or more distant square on the first move. The almost powerless queen could only move to an adjacent diagonal square, but king and queen could make a joint first move. A bishop could leap over any adjacent diagonal square; knight and rook moved as today; as did the pawn, without having the en passant move (see H.J.R. Murray, A History of Chess, Oxford, 1962, pp. 461-463, 537-549).
Ketelaer and De Leempt are the earliest Utrecht printers whose names are known, preceded by anonymous presses. Two dated books appeared in 1473 and 1474 but the rest of their output of some 20 books is undated.
No copy in the British Library or Bavarian State Library, two of the largest repositories of incunabula. HC 4891; GW 6523; Campbell 418; CIBN J-13; IDL 1215; Pellechet 3505; Goff C-408.