Cast Iron Chess Sets by E.G.Zimmermann

Cast Iron Chess Sets by E.G. Zimmermann 

A main connection between the Zimmermann foundry in Hanau, Germany, and chess sets has to do  with sculptor Johann Friedrich Malchow. Born in 1815, has was an apprentice to the sculptor Theodor Kalide (1801-1863), himself a disciple of Daniel Rauch. After his training he worked for the Royal Iron Foundry. The firm A.R. Seebass, for whom Malchow had worked, moved to Hanau in 1839/1840. Not long after this, A.R. Seebass formed an association with E.G. Zimmermann but the cooperation with the sculptor Malchow must have continued. In 1842, Zimmermann and Seebass split and the latter moved his firm to Offenbach in 1846 – from then on, Malchow must have worked exclusively for Zimmermann. Many Zimmermann casting bear his signature: sometimes the full name appears had engraved, sometimes only the initials and occasionally prefabricated nameplates stuck on the models were used. Like no other foundry at the time, Zimmermann started very early to sign their products with the company name and often included the name of the artist.

Collectors and in particular the trade often called every cast iron chess sets a “Zimmermann” set and so it became a generic term for cast iron chess sets. In reality, only five of all the know sets were actually made by the Zimmermann factory. Those include: i/ Germans vs Romans – The Varus Battle (No.-); ii/ The Crusades (No. 12836); iii/ Animals (No 11225); iv/ The 30-Year War; v/ Frederic I. Barbarossa vs Henry the Lion (No. 13687)

Varus Battle

These chessmen came in a leather covered box, the German side cast in iron in black, the Roman side cast in borne and signed “Verlag bei E.G. Zimmermann, Hanau”. The helmets of the king and the queen are guilt. King 9.9cm, Pawn 6.7cm. Source: CCI Cast Iron and Chess (2016).

The Crusades

The set No.2 “Crusaders”, has the Zimmermann stamp but no artist signature. Of all the Zimmermann sets, this one has the smallest pieces, with the pawns measuring only (including the base) 35mm. It is of interest to note that in this set both parties feature different knights and different castles. Source: CCI Cast Iron and Chess (2016).


This set carries only the company logo but no artist signature, but it is likely that this set was designed by Malchow by comparing the animals with other pieces. For example, Malchow signed match holder that is decorated with similar animals. Source: CCI Cast Iron and Chess (2016). 

The 30-Year War  

This is the most frequently found Zimmermann set. In many cases, there is no signature on the base of the kind and one can assume that it is a copy. The parties represent the Swedes under King Gustavus Adolphus on the one side and the Habsburg croups under Ferdinand II on the other. Source: CCI Cast Iron and Chess (2016). 

Frederic I. Barbarossa vs. Henry the Lion

Opposing parties are Emperor Frederic I. Barbarossa and Henry the Lion. The iron version has the No. 13687 together with the Zimmermann signature. The set shown is a very detailed example cast in bronze by Zimmermann with a slightly green patina. King 7.1cm. Pawn 4.1cm. Source: CCI Cast Iron and Chess (2016).