Sources of Old Chess Problems

Some online sources for old chess problem publications I have run into. I include some commercial offerings at the end.

Chess Archaology (periodicals & chess columns)

The Library section of this site contains a huge collection of web links to downloadable old periodicals.

Warning: Publications after 1900 are not always accessible: this is probably partly due to automatic copyright protection measures, especially for material from Google.

The Excavations section contains The Jack O’Keefe Project material with scans of more than 130 chess columns. (Not all of them are problem-related.) Remember to check the holdings information for any source you use: there may be additional information about known issues and lacunas.

The collection “History of Chess and Checkers” (no direct URL?) provides scans of sources such as Miron Hazeltine’s collection of scrapbooks of chess columns, J. G. White’s scrapbook of the New York Clipper column or his manuscript of chess problems, copies of chess manuscripts, and lots of portraits and photographs.

(Make sure to check the copyright information shown in the browser pages: while most of the sources I have checked are free of copyright, it may not be true for all.)

General sources

Worldcat (catalogue)

This is not really a source of chess material, but can be very useful to locate such sources. It is an online library catalogue, which also includes a number of digital sources.

Search for a title, then check the entry that shows if the requested title is available in printed form, as microform/microfilm or digitally (eBook). Many of the digital editions link to Google Books, to HathiTrust Digital Library or other providers.

On-line Newspapers (list)

A list of sources of digitized newspapers. As already noted, after 1900 or thereabouts, copyright protection usually becomes factor for general access.

Some of the sourcees mentioned in this list may be worth mentioning:

Anno (Austrian Newspapers On-line) provides lots of important chess sources. Illustrirte Zeitung, Leipzig, may not be an expected source (as it is German), but it is here, along with Wiener Schachzeitung (which is not strictly a newspaper), as well as the Berlin/Leipzig Schachzeitung which is not Austrian.

The entry ‘Thematischer Einsteig’ on the main page provides direct links to chess-oriented publications (‘Schach’); for chess columns, you have to go by Whyld’s Chess Columns.

Anno provides the best web user interface for newspaper reading that I have seen so far. Highly recommended, but you obviously need to know some German.

Google Books (books and some periodicals)

Many early books are available through Google Books as PDF books, though quality often suffers: most books I have examined have been presented as bi-level scans (i.e. black-and-white only), which tends to make poor printing quality considerably more difficult to read. Uneven scan practice and dubious QA makes other difficult to use without patching: one edition of American Chess-Nuts is, for some reason, scanned backwards.

Some titles are available from other sources, and may be grey-level scans, or even colour scans, making them much easier to read, at the cost of larger PDF files. This is one case where sites such as WorldCat or Chess Archaeology may identify better sources.

Even so, you can find much here (such as Sam. Loyd’s Chess Strategy) that otherwise would require physical access to national or specialist libraries.

Commercial sources

If you have easy access to a library with access to ProQuest services or similar sources of historical newspaper access (such as Readex or Gale and others: ask your reference librarian), you probably have everything you need short of extremely rare items. (This kind of access is typically only available from library locations, or through remote login through a library web site: ProQuest, for example, does not appear to provide access to end-users.)

For others, commercial services may be a way to get access in places where national libraries are not as yet at the level of Anno and other free access programs.

Commercial services may also, for additional fees, provide access to recent newspapers that otherwise would not be accessible.

British Newspaper Archive (commercial: newspapers)

(Free for users in British Library reading rooms?)

I use this to get at Illustrated London News, The Field, The Era, and perhaps one or two provincial newspapers.

Generally OK, but occasionally scans have heavy scanning/compression artifacts making it difficult to see what’s actually printed (early scans of The Field are one of these dull spots). So far, I’ve not gone further than to 1869, so I can’t judge quality in later material.

Newspapers (commercial: newspapers)

Mainly US newspapers, but there are some non-US stuff here as well.

I used this to get at Charleston Daily Courier tourney information.