Since we started the chess set design challenge with Tinkercad, I have been so interested in the history of chess pieces. Why do we use the pieces we use and how did they get their shapes? Wikipedia provided a quick and easy overview. Essentially, the Rooks (castles), Knights (horsies), Bishops (the other one), and pawns derive from an earlier set of pieces that represented four divisions of a military force. Fair enough.
This caught my eye, though:
The practice of playing chess for money became so widespread during the 13th century that Louis IX of France issued an ordinance against gambling in 1254.
Whoa! Chess gambling was such a problem that Saint Louis himself, the Louis of the Louis(es) to outlaw it altogether? Holy Romans were such nerds! But this begs the question, how exactly did they gamble on it? What if you had a draw?
To the GoogleBooks! This 1860 gem from Duncan Forbes – and I’m not kidding, it is an absolute delight to read – gives some fun context.
Cool! But also, what?! This is all meaningless to me, especially since the reference point, the farthing, has disappeared. Back to the Internet! This is what I found out about British coin denominations:
The shilling was subdivided into twelve (12) pennies.
The penny was further sub-divided into two halfpennies or four farthings (quarter pennies).
2 farthings = 1 halfpenny
2 halfpence = 1 penny (1d)
3 pence = 1 thruppence (3d)
6 pence = 1 sixpence (a ‘tanner’) (6d)
12 pence = 1 shilling (a bob) (1s)
2 shillings = 1 florin ( a ‘two bob bit’) (2s)
2 shillings and 6 pence = 1 half crown (2s 6d)
5 shillings = 1 Crown (5s)
I say with all due respect to our friends in the Isles that some empires were simply destined to fail. Let me distill the information above.
A penny and “pence” are the same thing for our purposes. A sixpence is worth six times as much as a penny, and a penny is worth four times as much as a farthing. A sixpence is therefore 24 farthings. Since a shilling was itself only one twentieth of a pound sterling, a farthing was only 1/960th of a pound.
All of this got me thinking. How much did it actually cost to buy a chess set in Ancient Persia? If we know how much they traded pieces for, that’s probably a great indicator of how much a whole set cost.
But wait just one more tick. How much is a chess piece worth if you print it on a MakerBot? I have a sneaking suspicion these guys were spending way too much on their chess sets. So I set out to prove it.
The info above gets us nowhere. In order to determine how much these pieces were really worth, I needed to know how the value of a pound has changed over time. Sources tell me an 1860 pound sterling was worth 91 times more than a 2012 GBP.
Throw in today’s exchange rate of 1.594 USD to 1.0 GBP, here’s what we get.
- One 1860 farthing is worth 14 cents in 2012 USD.
- One 1860 penny is 56 cents in 2012 USD
- One 1860 sixpence is $3.36 in 2012
Going back to the passage above, we can now show the current values of these pieces.
King — Priceless. Step off.
Rook — one dinar, or sixpence, or $3.36 (in 2012)
Knight — four dangs, or four pennies, or $2.24
Queen — two dangs and three tasu, or two pennies and three farthings, or $1.54
Bishop — one dang and three tasu, or one penny and three farthings, or $.98
Pawn — one dang, or one penny, or $.56
This means the total cost of an ancient Persian chess set was something like $38.36, plus whatever value was assigned to the kings.
Now. We printed this set in ABS, which we sell for $48/kilogram. That’s 4.8 cents per gram. As an aside, we also recently proved you can print 392 chess pieces from one spool of plastic. Whoa. I wanted to get more precise, so I weighed each piece and came up with the following:
King — 6.0 grams = $.29
Queen — 4.8 g = $.23
Knight — 3.4 g = $.16
Rook — 3.0 g = $.14
Bishop — 1.8 g = $.09
Pawn — 1.4 g = $.07
This brings a grand total of $3.72. That’s a tenth of the Persian price.
After this research, I’ve unilaterally decided on a new tagline for our company. You heard it here first:
MakerBot Industries, 90 percent discounts on chess sets, since the Tenth Century.