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Infelicities in Di Felice

Chess Periodicals : An Annotated International Bibliography, 1836-2008 by Gino Di Felice (McFarland, 2010, 349 pages softback, ISBN 978-0-7864-4643-8; US$ 49-95) is a work that sets itself a virtually impossible task.

This is potentially a great aid to chess researchers; if only it were better. I should like to point out some omissions and inaccuracies, in the hope that a corrected second edition may be possible some day. Readers from other countries are invited to contribute their own findings to the list below.

The book contains 3,163 entries and many cross-references, and covers chess magazines, bulletins, annuals and yearbooks (not columns) worldwide. A spin-off from the Italian author’s comprehensive research into his multi-volume series Chess Results, for the same publisher, this book will be an invaluable aid to future researchers and chess historians.

However, it may also, when feedback from more countries comes in, compete with Ken Whyld’s Chess Columns for being what Whyld himself (in his preface) called possibly “the most error-strewn chess book ever published”. A little modest disclaimer from Di Felice along the same lines as his predecessor would have made this reviewer somewhat better disposed towards it.

I was immediately very disappointed by a few omissions. I detected two main blind spots: Irish publications and, to a lesser extent, correspondence chess periodicals.

I was not surprised that the author did not find several of the obscure Irish periodicals, such as Irish Chess (three issues in 1937), although there are copies in the National Library of Ireland. Koltanowski was a contributor. It is also not to be found in the Douglas Betts standard Chess Bibliography 1850-1968 (which covers English language titles only).

There are some other twentieth century Irish titles missing, e.g. Ficheall (briefly the organ of the Irish Chess Union in the 1950s), Fiacle Fichille, and the ICCA Newsletter (for correspondence chess). Actually, on page 102, the book correctly says the Irish Chess Journal "replaces Fiacle Fichille" but the latter (edited by Tom O'Sullivan in the late 1970s) was totally different in style and appearance (mimeographed, not printed) and should have had its own listing.

What I certainly did not expect was that my own magazine Chess Mail would not be mentioned at all, although 82 issues were published and circulated worldwide between August 1996 and January 2006! Many far more ephemeral and local periodicals are listed in the book. Chess Mail's omission is a sign that something has gone badly wrong.

If Di Felice had searched for "chess" in the online British Library integrated catalogue, choosing the subset Serials and periodicals (which currently gives 223 hits), he could not have missed it. Also Chess Mail is complete in both the John G. White Collection (Cleveland Public Library, Ohio) and the Royal Dutch Library, whose catalogues were among Di Felice's most important sources, according to him.

My suspicion is that perhaps he did his British Library search at an early stage, when the online catalogue was not nearly as good as it is now, and perhaps he even did his principal English-language research before my magazine commenced publication. I also suspect that Di Felice missed it partly because it is a correspondence chess magazine.

There are other errors and omissions relating to titles that cover this form of the game. Erich von Freienhagen's little magazine Brief-Schach (1929) is missing, although it is in the catalogue of the John G. White Collection. The same editor had another short-lived journal called Fernschach-Courier which I have never seen. The B.C.C.A.'s periodicals are not recorded quite correctly; in particular their Year-book series is omitted altogether.

Also The Four-Leaved Shamrock (more than fifty issues in the period 1905-14) is not in Di Felice's book. Yet it is in Betts and in the catalogues of the British Library and some other libraries including Cleveland (albeit no library has it incomplete). For details of The Four-Leaved Shamrock, see my page here about early UK magazines.

How could the compiler omit any periodical that is in Betts? They are all grouped together. Betts and the British Library catalogue are listed among Di Felice's sources but evidently he did not check them systematically.

I don't see this as just two missed titles; it looks like two fundamental methodological flaws in English language titles alone. Since the book is in English, surely it was important to include all English-language titles?

Di Felice does, however,include the two Irish magazines from the 1880s, The Irish Chess Chronicle and The St. Patrick's Chess Club Pamphlet. He names the editor of the Irish Chess Chronicle incorrectly; it was Alfred Peake not William McGee.

Di Felice has been criticised for poor methodology before, especially by Taylor Kingston at the Chess Cafe, reviewing the first volume of his Chess Results series. To the list of mistakes Kingston found, I can point out another. Di Felice made the remarkable "discovery" of a London 1840 "Cigar Divan" tournament, played nine years earlier than the first genuine English tournament that I am aware of.

Particularly remarkable was that Di Felice had Henry Bird taking second prize, which would have been at the age of 11. If he had asked himself was that likely, Di Felice would soon have realised that whatever source he had for this 'tournament' was a misprint for the 1849 Ries's Divan event (which is in his book). Unfortunately, Di Felice does not give individual sources for all the tournament tables and matches in that book. At least in this work, and later volumes of the Results series, he does give his sources for each item.

I drew the publisher's attention to the above problems. Apparently a German reader has pointed out that # 1477 Mein Garten–Meine Welt "is by no means a chess-related item." It was published by the firm Schacht KG but Schacht means “Shaft” in English; it’s not Schach!

To sum up, I did not expect Chess Periodicals to be perfect. In many ways it is remarkable how inclusive and accurate it is, although it is a bit weak on identification of editors if they were not named explicitly. (For example, Di Felice fails to name Howard Staunton as the editor of The Chess World, 1865-9, although it is well known to have been his.).

If we are to eventually deserve a better second edition, chess researchers must support this book by buying it, despite its faults, but also bring the errors and omissions that they find to general attention, as I have done here, so that they can be corrected in future.

 

(This review was originally posted 28 April 2011; minor revisions made since.)