John G. White Collection of Chess and Checkers

by Alexey Root
8/17/2021 – The John G. White Collection of Chess and Checkers is the largest and most comprehensive collection of printed material on chess. While its physical location is Cleveland, Ohio, chess researchers and aficionados may also view parts of the collection online. On July 21, 2021, Woman International Master Alexey Root visited the Cleveland Public Library, which houses the collection. | Photos: Alexey Root

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Cleveland Public Library

The John G. White Collection of Chess and Checkers is on the third floor of a 1925 building, located next to an 11-story 1997 building named for Cleveland native Louis Stokes.

Cleveland Public Library - 1925 building

In 1968, Stokes became the first African American elected to the U.S. Congress from Ohio.

Louis Stokes Wing (1997)

These two Cleveland Public Library buildings have spectacular views of Lake Erie on one side and of downtown from their other sides.

Special Collections on third floor view of Lake Erie

The 1925 building has elegant Neo-Classical architecture and sweeping marble staircases.

Exhibition Corridor

On July 21, 2021, I visited the John G. White Collection of Chess and Checkers to find games needed for my book, United States Women’s Chess Champions.

Exhibition Corridor Display Case

Raymond W. Rozman III, Special Collections Librarian at the Cleveland Public Library, pulled materials for me and answered my questions about the chess collection.

Alexey Root in the Special Collections Reading Room

(photo by Raymond Rozman)

Alexey Root (AR): What is the history of the collection and how are new items acquired for it?

Raymond Rozman (RR): The John G. White Collection of Chess and Checkers started out as the private collection of Cleveland lawyer John G. White (1845-1928). White built his collection by using van der Lasa’s bibliography Das Erste Jahrtausend der Schachliteratur as a checklist, though White made numerous additions even to this authoritative work. White was the foremost chess collector of his era, well known to book dealers in America and Europe, and he also collected heavily in folklore and other areas. Upon his death, White donated his book collections to the Cleveland Public Library and left an endowment so that the library would continue his collections. 

AR: What materials are the most popular, and are any of them available online?

RR: The collection includes printed books and manuscripts going back to the 12th century, but most researchers using the collection today ask for periodicals from the 19th and 20th centuries. The works and collections of prominent chess players are also frequently used, including the archival collections of José Raúl Capablanca, Emanuel Lasker, Claude Bloodgood, and others. The Chess and Checkers Players Portraits Collection of photographs is also popular with researchers, and much of it has been digitized and published online.

As our researchers are scattered around the globe, much of our business is now conducted online, and we receive approximately two or three requests a week. Players and researchers wishing to use the collection may contact Cleveland Public Library’s Special Collections department at special.collections@cpl.org. 

AR: I noticed that the librarians still wear masks, though visitors are not required to wear them. What changes have happened because of the pandemic?

RR: In the past we have hosted an annual chess competition for Cleveland Metropolitan School District students. Though in past years we have hosted hundreds of students for this event every spring, the future of the program is in doubt following the pandemic.

For more on the John G. White Collection of Chess and Checkers and about students playing chess at the library, read Mark N. Taylor’s December 2012 Chess Life cover story, accessible through that magazine’s digital archive.

Women’s Chess Research

My visit to the chess collection was very productive. I found three games that I will annotate for United States Women’s Chess Champions. I was most excited about finding a 1937 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship game by Adele Rivero, that year’s champion. Edith Lucie Weart’s scrapbook had the game. Who did Rivero defeat in the game I found? Weart!

Exhibition Corridor Women in Chess display

I am still looking for wins or draws by Gisela Kahn Gresser and Mona May Karff from the 1948 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, where they were co-champions. While the 1948 U.S. Championship, held at the same time and place as the 1948 Women’s, is well documented in the collection and elsewhere, the women co-champions’ games appear to be missing. The last game on my wish list is a win or draw by Karff played during the 1974 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, which she won. Please comment or contact me if you have these games.

Links:


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.
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Alexey Root Alexey Root 8/19/2021 03:41
@BeFreeBusy, you are right. On November 6, 1941, former World Chess Champion José Raúl Capablanca gave a simultaneous exhibition at the Marshall Chess Club, winning 19 games, losing two, and drawing one. Karff was one of the winners.@Albert Silver I started with US Chess but Gresser and Karff games from the 1948 U.S. Women's Championship are not available from that source. I've checked many other sources as well. Maybe the games are in the Marshall Chess Club's vault, or maybe not, since that year the championship was held in South Fallsburg, New York. Thanks for both of your comments.
BeFreeBusy BeFreeBusy 8/19/2021 09:32
Capablanca passed away in 1942, so the correct year is 1941.
Albert Silver Albert Silver 8/18/2021 05:52
Knowing nothing about either women, I looked them up, and found a very pretty tactic by Karff against Capablanca whom she beat in a simul in 1946. I take it neither Chess Life, which covered the event back in the day, nor the US Chess Federation were of any help?
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