Meeting in a Chess Collector's Paradise

KWA General Meeting at Cleveland, Ohio
19-21 August, 2011

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Before Andy Ansel goes into the events at Cleveland, Michael Negele reports on his Fiske research and adds some photos from his stopover in Iceland (outward flight) and from the visit to the Niagara Falls / Toronto subsequent to the Cleveland meeting:

Those who remember my contribution THE KING OF COLLECTORS AND HIS PEERS in KARL 4/2004 know that I had already dealt there with Daniel Willard Fiske.
Meanwhile I have succeeded to acquire a number of works published by his literary executor Horatio S. White and to immerse myself deeper in this exciting life. You may assign many titles to Fiske: "Book collector, librarian, linguistic genius, writer, chess player, chess organizer, chess author, journalist, university professor, unsettled traveler, disputatious citizen".


Kristín Bragadóttir: Willard Fiske - vinur Íslands og velgjörðamaður
(Cover verso)

In the a.m. KARL I wrote (the original quotation is given on our corresponding German page):

Prof. Daniel Willard Fiske (*11/11/1831, †17/09/1904 in Frankfurt on the Main), a man of unusual energy whose life should be outlined briefly.
Due to his enthusiasm for Nordic legends, Fiske had studied at Copenhagen and Uppsala in his very young days and returned to New York in 1852. He was a real chess enthusiast; so he edited together with Paul Morphy and later on also with Sam Loyd the “Chess Monthly” from 1857 to 1860. Arguably it was Fiske’s merit as well that the "First American Chess Congress New York 1857" came a reality, the tournament book written by him is a bibliophile tidbit. Later on Fiske’s interest in chess waned considerably, he travelled a lot through Europe and allegedly disbanded his (first) extensive collection of chess literature. (Von der Lasa reported on that in DSZ, April 1864, p.99.)
From 1868 to 1883 he was a lecturer for Nordic languages at the newly founded Cornell University at Ithaca, N.Y., and at the same time he was recorded as their first librarian. In July 1880 Fiske married the tuberculous millionaire heiress Jennie McGraw who died barely two years later after travelling together to Italy. Caused by a seemingly only formal obstacle in the university statutes, there developed a long lasting acrimonious legal dispute between the widower and the Cornell University about the considerable part of her inheritance (about one million US$) that Mrs McGraw-Fiske had donated to the university.
This for the American dispensation of justice important “last will case“ was even brought to the Supreme Court of the USA, finally in 1890 Fiske got his rights. Obviously Fiske hadn’t been able at that time to agree with two trustees of the university about certain terms of use regarding the library building which had to be newly set up. The positions had rapidly hardened as in the legacy case Fiske felt inadequately informed (and deceived) by the executors and trustees, subsequently he insisted on a passage in the inheritance law of the New York State which prohibited that more than 50% of a heritage could devolve on charitable objectives.
In conflict with the Cornell University, already in 1883 the excellent Dante expert Fiske had gone to Italy near Florence to pursue his research there. Again he built up a large chess library which he later donated to the Icelandic national library (Landsbokasafn) at Reykjavík. 1901-02 he published a chess magazine in Icelandic (I Uppnami = En prise), 1905 his work “Chess in Iceland” was posthumously published. But Fiske bequeathed the Cornell University his great Dante collection (7000 volumes) together with his remaining library (10000 titles on Iceland, 1200 volumes of Rhaeto-Romanic literature, more than 3500 volumes on Petrarca) as well as a considerable estate (about 500 000 US$); apparently Fiske’s grudge had passed after more than 20 years.

My companion Bob van de Velde
at the Icelandic airport Keflavík.

This time I got myself in the right mood, so to speak, with a short visit to Iceland (Unfortunately there was no time to make a detour to Reykjavík which is about 50 km away from the airport Keflavík.) in order to immerse myself particularly in the mystery of the so-called Rou(x) manuscript afterwards at the Cleveland Public Library. For a "Hunter of the lost books" this manuscript – allegedly written in 1734 – would of course be a special tidbit, but maybe Fiske has actually "invented" it as the Messrs. Eugene B. Cook, John G. White and John Keeble persistently affirmed. You can learn more about that from my presentation, and in the CPL you will find the reasoning (from 1925) elaborated handwritten by John Keeble why such a manuscript couldn’t have existed. J.G. White's letter to Keeble (dated March 1926) is linked in the following: page 1 / page 2.

Michael Negele’s presentation at our general meeting: Daniel Willard Fiske - An American Pioneer of Chess Book Collecting (PDF, in the member section; 5.5 MB)

But not only about Daniel Willard Fiske, also about Emanuel Lasker as well as about another "lost book" I found new, up to now undiscovered material in this treasure trove for each chess researcher.

Michael Negele between Icelandic lumps of rock.

Card of Iceland - click to enlarge!

From Cleveland I went via Toronto to Niagara Falls, whereby my childhood dream could came true. Next afternoon I met our member Ken MacDonald in the Canadian metropolis on Lake Ontario – what more could I expect?

Michael Negele

Three KWA members who managed to reach the Niagara Falls
some days prior to me.

View from the Sheraton Hotel, the Niagara Falls in the background.

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