Latin American Chess Set

Latin Board with pieces

Donated to the collection in 2006, this hand painted chess set was purchased in Colon, Panama. The set may have been produced a few years before it was donated to the collection. The total set contains 32 pieces, typical of a European chess set.

Many visitors to Central America and the Caribbean area see these sets in shops that cater to tourists. Similar sets of different dimensions can be found in many places, for example in shops on the island of Aruba as well as the set pictured on the left which was purchased in Panama.

While most standard European chess sets with machine crafted chess pieces have one side painted or stained, and the opposing side painted or stained black, or left the natural color of the wood - this set features hand painted pieces that are unique, in that each side has a very different look. The painted costumes of the set represent on one side 16th century Spanish conquerors, and the opposing side is either Mayan or a related indigenous population of the same period.

Board without pieces

The board without the pieces (pictured on the right) is 26cm square by 2.6cm thick. As indicated above, similar sets of different sizes (according to the donor) have boards two and three times the size of this one. The board is made of wood with a laquer-like finish. While the 8 by 8 chess matrix is standard for European chess, the painted border around the board is not. The border features a number of artist inspired traditional designs of various Latin American cultures, as well as painted scenes of the area.

Upon examination, it is apparent that the pieces from both sides look different. As in other European chess sets, the 32 pieces - 16 on each side - represent the same "cast of characters" - king, queen, bishop, knight, rook, pawn. Each varies in height. The shortest piece at 4.7cm is the pawn, while the tallest piece is each king at 6.2cm in this set. However, the base of all pieces is about 2cm in diameter. Each piece has probably been cast in a mold and made of a composition material. It is assumed that each piece is hand painted because of the size of the pieces and the range of colors used to create the costumes. The pieces for the larger sized sets, the donor reported, are identical to the look of this set.

Spanish court pieces

The photograph above is the Spanish side court pieces, and the next photograph is the entire Spanish side.

Spanish side pieces

In contrast, the next photograph is of the indigenous court figures who would be defending against the Spanish conquerors. Although an attempt has been made to determine the culture that the designs of these figures represent, they seem to be a mixture of more than one culture.

Local court pieces

The next photograph is of the entire local set.

Local pieces


The following are close-up photographs of the pieces to offer a detailed view of their costumes. As may be viewed, there are considerable variations in the hand painting of each piece. Note particularly the difference in the "knight".

Spanish King Local king
Spanish Queen Local queen
Spanish bishop Local bishop
Spanish knight Local knight
Spanish rook Local rook
Spanish pawn Local pawn


Last update February 24, 2010