With a Rare Bibliography of Chess

Rocco, Benedetto (fl. 1783-1816); Cancellieri, Francesco (1751-1826)

Dissertazione del ch. signore d. Benedetto Rocco napoletano sul giuoco degli scacchi.

Rome: Francesco Bourliè, 1817


Large Duodecimo: 18.5 x 11 cm. 58, [2] pp. A-B12, C6


Bound in 20th c. red morocco, gilt-tooled author and title on the spine. A large, fresh copy on thick paper, bottom margin entirely uncut throughout. Very nice.

A rare and important chess book comprising the Neapolitan chess player Benedetto Rocco’s “Dissertazione sul Giuoco degli Scacchi agli oziosi”(p. 7-26) and the Abbé Francesco Cancellieri’s important bio-bibliographical catalogue of chess players and their books, "Biblioteca ragionata degli scrittori del givoco degli scacchi" (p. 27-58). Rocco's "Dissertazione" was first published in the “Giornale enciclopedico” (1783). And Cancellieri’s "Biblioteca” was first published as an appendix to his "Biblioteca degli scrittori sopra la memoria artificiale," [n.p., n.d.], and later included in his "Dissertazione intorno agli uomini dotati di gran memoria ..." Roma, F. Bourlié, 1815. All of these publications are rare.

Rocco’s “Dissertazione” preserves valuable information on the members of a chess academy, “Gli Oziosi Napoletani” that flourished in Naples in the 18th century. The leading player of the academy was D. Scipione del Grotto (d. 1723), a priest from Salerno, who turned to chess after losing a great deal of money at dice and cards. Rocco tells us that in 1718 del Grotto famously defeated the English Admiral Byng, who had come to Naples after the English defeated the Spanish fleet off Capo Passaro. We also hear of de Grotto’s disciple Carmine Pagano, Ludovico Lupinacci, and other famous players. Cancellieri’s bibliography is our sole source for information on a number of early unpublished manuscript treatises, including a description of a codex from 1409, commissioned at Prague, of a “Historia Saturica” which has at the end a tract on chess in seven chapters. The bibliography includes the very earliest of printed chess books, including Caxton’s “The Game and Play of Chesse” (with an incorrect date of 1480), and a medieval Hebrew poem on chess attributed to Ibn Ezra by Thomas Hyde. There are also fascinating accounts of non-literary chess innovations and episodes, such as the remarkable story of John of Austria’s human chess board, with living men or children as the pieces.

Fumagalli 1846; Walker “Bibliographical Catalogue of Printed Books and Writers on Chess” p. 282