Chess Libraries

A lot of chess knowledge (especially games and opening analysis) can be gleaned from books and online sources. But if you are serious about chess or interested in chess history, you will inevitably be drawn to the books and articles that are no longer in print.

There are some wonderful and accessible library chess collections around the U.S. and all over the world, and most are underutilized. I suspect that players simply don't know about them or would rather play the game than wade through old books. I hope the following collection of links and resources helps change that a bit.

Cleveland Public Library
Home to the John G. White Chess and Checkers Collection, the Cleveland Public Library is worth knowing about and visiting if you are serious about chess history. At over 33,000 volumes devoted to chess and checkers, it is by far the largest collection of its kind in the world.

Chess Treasures at the British Library by Tim Harding
A great introduction to England's venerable library and its periodicals collection, but also a good introduction to library research for chess history enthusiasts.

Caissa's Legacy: The Great Chess Libraries by Allan Savage
Notes from a lecture discussing the great chess libraries, both U.S. and abroad, available from Chess Archaeology.

Selected U.S. Chess Libraries
An excellent table by Allan Savage, listing and detailing the most important library collections with public access. Appendix to his article (see above).

Chess Libraries in America (see pp.147-152) by Dr. Albrecht Buschke
The famous bookseller and historian wrote an article on chess libraries for the Princeton University Library Chronicle 2.4 (June 1941): 147-152, available online at the link above.

Stalking the Blue-Eyed Chess Score, by John S. Hilbert
One of the best pieces I've read on the fun to be found in a chess library or really any library (if you know what you are doing).

Chess Columns: Now and Then, by John S. Hilbert
A great article on the fun to be had at many libraries tracking down chess columns. One great column he does not mention here was by Herman Helms in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Thursdays.

Princeton University Library
Home to the Eugene B. Cook chess collection, one of the largest in the United States. Cook was a famous problem composer and editor, immortalized by the term "to cook a problem" (i.e.: find errors or alternate solutions). His collection included many old and rare books. The library of William Spackman was later added, giving Princeton a great collection of old tournament books. The collection has been kept relatively current, with many opening periodicals and books. For more information about the collections and other libraries, see The Guide to PUL Special Collections: Chess, especially Albrecht Buschke's "Chess Libraries in America" (pp.147-152) and "The Spackman Collection of Chess Books" (pp. 62-64). Princeton is a "closed stack" library that requires permission to access, so be sure to read through the website or call ahead about their policies before making the trip. One of the best features of the library is their Special Collections, which include many old and rare books. They sponsored an exhibition called The Art of Chess in 1997 to showcase some of the more interesting and rare items in the collection.

Mechanics' Institute Library and Chess Room
A great resource, located in San Francisco and associated with the famous club of the same name. See the links to the Library and the Online Catalogue. Or go directly to a search for "Chess."

New York Public Library
The main library at 5th Ave and 42nd Street tends to have the largest holdings.

New York University Libraries
The library has a fairly good collection of books and is said to have received Fred Reinfeld's collection and materials from other New York masters, though I have not yet investigated that. Any information about their special collections or other holdings would be most welcome.

Chess and Draughts Collection (The Hague)
The link takes you to excellent introductory pages to the collection at the Hague, mostly in English.

The British Library
See Tim Harding's article (above) for details and further links about the British Library.

Free Library of Philidelphia
A surprisingly large collection, thanks to the Charles Willing Collection. Especially strong in periodicals.

Harvard University Libraries
A very large collection, from 1450 to the present. Good in periodicals, early works, game collections, and openings with quite a bit of rare material.

U.S. Library of Congress
Good on chess history and periodicals.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online, 1841-1901
A great treat from the Brooklyn Public Library (which has its own chess collection, separate from the NYPL above). The Eagle would later run an excellent column by Herman Helms every Thursday (and Wednesdays before Thanksgiving), but there was quite a bit of chess coverage even before Helms began writing. Many libraries have the Eagle on microfilm. There is, unfortunately, no good listing of historic chess columns readily available on the web, as Anders Thulin notes. Ken Whyld has put together a list of columns from Moravian Press for serious researchers. And there is a good listing of contemporary chess columns out there. But if anyone knows of a readily-accessible listing of chess columns, let me know!

British Chess Problem Society
Includes a listing and borrowing information.

Chess Libraries
A short listing with links from Brainy Encyclopedia.


Updated 05.30.2005 | Contact Michael Goeller