January 9, 2013

Featured January 2013: Avon Chess Set and Board

Posted in Exhibitions, Featured Chess Sets

avon506bwJanuary’s “Featured Chess Set” is loaned to us by Saint Louis native Phil Natta. With a fascination for the game of chess and a love of collecting sets, Phil is a great friend to the World Chess Hall of Fame as well as one of our enthusiastic Gallery Attendants! 


This 1970’s Avon Products, Inc. chess set was collected a few pieces at a time over the course of a year. An unexpectedly discovered piece in a house I had recently moved into led to a quest for completion of the entire set, aided by antique shops, friends, and online sellers. Most bottles are still full of their original men’s colognes and after-shaves, and some original boxes are also on display.

The sets are comprised of amber-topped characters on silver-covered glass bases, with inverted colors for the other side of the completed set. Interestingly, switching tops or bases produces a completely different looking but equally attractve set, with all-silver and all-amber opposing sides.

The Wheaton Glass Company of Millville, New Jersey made the glass bottles for these 1970s Avon chessmen. Anticipating great public interest in the 1972 World Championship Match that pitted American Bobby Fischer against defending champion Boris Spassky , Avon produced the silver topped pieces in the early 70s, and the amber topped pieces in the mid-70s. The first chessmen created for the 1972 product line were individually boxed and described as “3 oz., dark amber bottles with silver-toned tops.” This 16-piece set represented the “black” chessmen. In the mid-1970s, Avon Products, Inc. again sold several of their men’s colognes and after-shaves in a select group of amber-topped pieces. These opposing pieces, available between 1975 and 1978, were also individually boxed and sold with silver-colored glass bases and amber tops, representing the “white” chessmen.

Plastic figural tops cover the twist-off caps topping the bottles, creating the chess characters. Pieces with amber bases came in colorful checkered boxes and were simply labeled as “The King,” “The Queen,” “The Bishop,” etc. Pieces with silver bases came in tan-checkered boxes and were labeled as “The King II,” “The Queen II,” “The Bishop II,” etc.

Also produced was a limited edition knight, now very rare, with an amber horse-head topper over a clear glass 3 oz. bottle, displayed here filled with the original cologne; it is the discovered piece that launched the completion of this full set.

These vintage Avon pieces are not exceptionally rare, but a large complementary Avon original chess board is, and was only available to high-grossing Avon sales reps, but not to the general public, in 1976. The squares of the plastic 24”x24” board are dark brown with contrasting squares in white. The National Association of Avon Collectors logo is featured on each of the four center squares.

—Phil Natta


Included Colognes and After-Shave Lotions:

King:  Oland After-Shave
Queen:  Wild Country After-Shave
Rook:  2 Wild Country After-Shaves
Bishop:  1 Wild Country After-Shave, 1 “Blend 7” After-Shave
Smart Move Knight:  1 Oland Cologne, 1 Wild Country After-Shave
Pawn:  1 Electric Pre-shave lotion, 7 Wild Country After-Shave


King II:  Spicy After-Shave
Queen II:  Spicy After-Shave
Rook II:  2 Wild Country After Shaves
Bishop II:  2 Spicy After-Shaves
Smart Move II Knight:  2 Wild Country After-Shaves
Pawn II:  8 Spicy After-Shaves