Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Check mate

The tagua nut can be carved and left to harden to create little figurines that look like they are made from ivory. The brown around the penguin’s feet and it’s eyes are parts of the outer shell of the nut. I lived for decades without ever hearing about the tagua nut, also known as vegetable ivory, but not too long before I received this ornament as a gift from my nieces, I had bought a tagua nut chess set, where all the pieces represent species from the Galapagos Islands. The kings are whales, the queens are dolphins, the bishops are tropical fish, the knights are seahorses, the rooks are penguins and the pawns are tortoises. Years ago I had an opportunity to buy an alabaster set at the same chess shop in Greenwich Village. All the pieces were sea creatures, including Neptune and/or Poseidon as the kings and penguins for the 16 pawns. Every time I was in the neighborhood, I would go look at the alabaster chess set in the window, but I always thought it was too expensive or too frivolous for me to buy it. When I finally decided to get it, the set was gone from the window, and a shop clerk said they didn’t expect to get another one. For years, I continued to check the window for a penguin chess set. Finally, the tagua nut set appeared and I went straight in to the store and bought it.

Ten Thousand Villages, tagua nut penguin, made in Ecuador
Acquired: December 25, 2007
Number: 446
Size: 2.125 inches tall

Tagua nut chess set with penguin rooks, Village Chess Shop, New York City, Feb. 20, 2002 

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