A very good copy of an early edition of the Portuguese-Jewish apothecary Pedro Damiano de Odemira's illustrated Italian-Spanish chess manual, Libro da imparare giocare à scacchi. It was the first and most important modern practical work on the subject, and was the inflection point between chess el viejo—the medieval game—and de la dama—the game played by the rules we know today. Damiano had fled Portugal in early 1497 following Manuel I's expulsion of the Jews—he was one of a very small percentage allowed to leave; those who were forced to stay were converted against their will. Damiano settled in Rome where he adopted the Italian version of his name. In about 1500 chess became a recognized and accepted pastime for Jews on the Sabbath. Among those in the Jewish diaspora in Europe, and in the Ottoman Empire (which had welcomed expelled Jews), chess began to flourish. Damiano was one of the great players of the era, and his book, which first appeared in 1512, went through at least eight editions, up until the publication of Ruy López de Segura's groundbreaking Arte del juego del axedrez in 1561, which was based in part on Damiano's work. Very few other chess books in any language were published during these years, attesting to the dominating popularity of Damiano's book. He popularized openings now known as Petrov's Defense, the Queen's Gambit Accepted, and the Giuoco Piano. Damiano's Defense (1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 f6) was actually named after our author by Ruy Lopez; Damiano is probably still spinning in his grave over this, as 2. …f6 is a demonstrably hopeless continuation for Black. (Damiano himself condemned it in his book.) The Libro da imparare giocare à scacchi is well known for being the first manual to assert that the chessboard should always be oriented so that a white square is at the bottom right; it is the first European work to contain the time-honored advice, Se hai buon tratto per la mano guarda se ne sia altro migliore ("if you see a good move, look for an even better one"); and at the end is a section on how to play blindfold chess, which necessitated a formal description of chess-move nomenclature (i.e. "knight to the white king's bishop's third house" [=Nc3]) which was in use for centuries, until the Stamma algebraic system took hold in the late 1970s. (We note with some amusement that the woodcut of the empty board in the section for blindfold has a black square at the bottom right.) Damiano's chess was quite similar to the game played today, though en passant capture was not yet in use. (This would be an innovation later in the sixteenth century, though not adopted in Italy till 1880, ahead of the Milan tournament). The book begins with a discussion of the pieces, each of which is illustrated with a small woodcut. Then follows a series of general tactical and strategic tenets on the play of the game, and a suite of chess problems in Italian and Spanish, illustrated with 92 woodcuts of positions. Staunton noted in the mid nineteenth century that Damiano's book owes much to Luis Ramírez de Lucena's 1497 work on chess, which was rife with errors that Damiano repeated. (Lucena may have copied his book in haste from a lost work, Francesc Vicent's Libre dels jochs partits dels schacs en nombre de 100, printed in 1495). An article in the June 1906 issue of The British Chess Magazine discusses these errors in detail, and also includes a bibliography of known editions. Ours seems to be a variant of the fifth edition—or the second undated edition—which was published dopo 1524 (according to EDIT16); it probably appeared about 1530, though the printer remains unknown. Given the clean state of the title woodcut, our copy was either produced early in the press run, or is an unrecorded edition preceding the fifth: the few other copies known all exhibit distinct damage to the border at lower right. Van der Linde adjudged the current state of Damiano bibliography as "imperfect and defective," and this seems to remain true today. The Libro da imparare giocare à scacchi seldom appears on the market. Ours is a fine, complete exemplar of the first modern chess vade mecum, and the essential witness to the beginning of the estimable tradition of exceptional Jewish chess players. With esteemed provenance, having once been in the collection of James W. Rimington Wilson, an elite amateur Yorkshire player and avid collector of books on cards and chess whose collection descended to his son in 1877.
?Rome: S.n., c1530.
Octavo, 155 x 104 x 9 mm (binding), 153 x 103 x 8 mm (text block). A-H8, 64 ff. Somewhat later-than-contemporary limp vellum, titled in ink on spine. Covers soiled and a trifle cockled, ties missing. Interior: Title trimmed close on fore-edge, cropping double hyphen following IM-; leaves lightly toned. A very good copy.
The James Wilson Rimington Wilson copy, with his name in ink to upper pastedown; by descent to his son R. H. Rimington Wilson in 1877 (who probably penned his father's name in the book); thence consigned to Sotheby's in 1928 (among fourteen other mostly defective editions), where it was offered as lot 313. Acquired by Quaritch, along with most of the catalogue, and offered in their chess catalogue the following year as no. 386, priced at £141, the second costliest item after a 1562 English work. Acquired at a UK auction by a European grandmaster sometime in the 1980s, in whose collection it remained until his decease in 2022. Scattered penciled cataloguers' notations to endpapers.
Van der Linde pp. 341-2; Van der Linde-Niemeijeriana 351; Sander 2295; Palau 68223; Gay pp. 73-4; DeLucia p. 13; EDIT16 75900; Chicco, A, "Le edizioni italiane del Libro di Damiano," L'Esopo, Vol. 22, 1984, p. 55; Pinsent, Ross, and White, J. G., "The Various Editions of Damiano," British Chess Magazine, June 1906, pp. 229-39 and 423-29 (article by Pinsent, letter by White, response by Pinsent); Weissman, Stephen, "Chess: A Bibliophile's View," The Grolier Gazette 22/23, 1975, p. 42; Crumiller, Jon, The Oldest Books on Modern Chess, online article, 2016, http://chessreference.com/CCI/OldestBooksOnModernChess/OldestBooksOnModernChess.pdf.