Picture it... the space age of the 1960's and in a technologically advanced America where business is looking forward to modernism, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) launched a marketing program to advance the selling of ALCOA aluminum products. The players: Austin E. Cox A.S.I.D. of Austin Enterprises and the advertising agency Ketchum, McLeod & Grove. The game: Chess.
Chess? What is modern about Chess? Well the design is for one. In 1962, Austin Cox designed these sleek pieces which were cut from aluminum bars and packaged in protected wood cases and blue plastic windows. The pieces range in size from 4 7/8" for the King down to almost 3" for the pawns. They appear the same untainted color in the box but as you remove the pieces from it's holder the opposing pieces bare a black tint on the sides.
The designs subtract the typical symbols of chess pieces to simple forms, i.e., the Queen is represented by a crown, the bishop is a cross, the knight is a shield and the King, is fittingly, the symbol of ALCOA.
So why Chess? Well, it actually is symbolic as well. The game of chess is associated with intelligence and problem solving. A literally strategic move for the company and the executives they did, or wished to do business with who could proudly display the set in their offices with the mounting capabilities on the case.
I have typically seen the set in the 30" case but there is a variation of this set in a smaller format in which all pieces are identical in size and fit in an 18" long case. I have bought and sold these sets over the years and have seen them increase in cost considerably up to $3,000 retail.
In a recent trip to Palm Springs, I uncovered a rare set I have never seen nor have seen since. The pieces are stored in an 18"x18" box and the pawns depict a fist holding an axe. As opposed to mounting the display case it is actually the checkerboard on the opposite side. Very clever design and is a part of my private collection.
The other sets, however, are available at Modlife and retail $595 for the 18" case set and $895 for the 30" case set. And if you check out our ebay store you'll find a rare chess set made by Avon in the 1970's which where individually sold as men's aftershave and hair care products. This collectors set comes complete with boxes and most of which still have the Avon product in the bottle. SEXY!