Last updated on October 2, 2021
Portobello Road in Notting Hill is the home of London’s world-famous antiques market. A few weeks ago we were walking along the road, browsing the wares in the various antique shops. It was mid-week and the sun was shining so there were a few tourists about, but not heaving crowds you see on Saturdays when the market is open. We came across this beautiful antique backgammon set made by A.W. Gamage somewhere between 1890 and 1910. Gamages was a department store in Holborn, London. It was founded by Arthur Walter Gamage in 1878. It was particularly well known for its toy and hardware departments. The store closed in 1972. I was intrigued by the set, but didn’t know enough about antiques to justify spending nearly £500 on the price tag.
This folding backgammon set has an exterior chess board layered with finely tooled leather over a wooden cabinet. ‘Tooled leather’ is any piece of leather that has been engraved to have a design, pattern or other decorative effects. The set has been constructed to represent a book with elaborate gilt decorated spines inscribed with “ENGLISH GAMES” Vol 1 & 2. Obviously, this was meant to be stored in a bookcase. The interior consisted of a tooled leather Backgammon playing field with fine gilt decoration. The interior also has a retailer stamp “A.W. GAMAGE HOLBORN LONDON”.
The set included thirty turned ebony and boxwood backgammon checkers that are purported to be the same period as the board. The checkers are grooved on the upper side and flat underneath. I imagine it would be difficult to retain the original checkers after a century of use. That said, the checkers could be the original pieces as they are all matching and they neatly fit the points. The set also includes two lovely leather turned dice cups, again allegedly from the same era as the set. There were no dice with the set, so replacements would need to be found. Also, if you are choosing accessories based on the original period you would need to exclude the doubling cube as this didn’t appear until the 1920s.
The board when open is 40 cm x 44 cm. I dared not pick up the set to determine its weight.
This backgammon set is in remarkable condition for its age. There are some signs of wear and tear, but this adds to the piece’s charm and character. In order to preserve the set for another hundred years, we think it would need to be kept as a display piece. This is because continued regular use might have a detrimental effect on the condition of the board. It would make a fine Deluxe Backgammon set if you were prepared to spend the money on a purely decorative piece.