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Star Trek The Original Series 3D Chess Set

One of the most famous and iconic props from Star Trek is the three dimensional chess set.

We first see it in the second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before:”

Before I get too involved discussing this complicated prop, it’s probably worthwhile to discuss just the chess pieces themselves.

You’ll note that the chess pieces used in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” are a little bit too large for the board.  As most people know, the three dimensional chess set consists of three 4 x 4 large boards and a number of smaller 2 x 2 movable “attack boards.”  (Sometimes the set is seen with four attack boards and sometimes it has five.)  But at any rate, the way the smaller attack boards overhang the larger boards, there’s not enough clearance for the tallest pieces to fit under the board.  In fact look at the picture: the only place they could really get away with placing the tall king is up on the very top level--where he wouldn't bump his head.  So these pieces, as pretty as they are (they look to be alabaster) never appear again and not much is known about them.  Perhaps they were the personal property of someone on the production team.  Another drawback of these pieces is that they seem to have two boring colors: light brown and dark brown.  It's hard to tell the players apart--and they're just really dark.

When the chess set is next seen (in “The Naked Time”), it has different pieces:

These “Gothic Style” chess pieces were designed by the later Peter Ganine.  These were seen periodically during the series.  If you’re looking on ebay: 

Sculptured “Gothic” Chess by Peter Ganine, Gothic No. 1457, Salon Edition
Pacific Game Company, North Hollywood CA, 1961

Note that this Gothic set is the "Salon"-size edition with a 3 3/8" King, and not the "Tournament"-size edition with a 4 1/2" King.)

You can see these “Gothic Style” chess pieces in “Journey to Babel:”

You can see them in a cutting room floor scene from “Elaan of Troyius:”

You can see them in “The Paradise Syndrome:”

And probably the best shot of them comes in their final appearance—in “Day of the Dove:”

All other appearances of the chess set use a different set of chess pieces.

After we saw the “Gothic Style” chess pieces in “The Naked Time,” the very next episode “Charlie X" required not only that the chess set be featured prominently, but that a number of its playing pieces be destroyed by Charlie’s powers.  So Property Master Irving Feinberg went out to the store and bought several more chess sets. This time, he picked up at least two copies of another then-available chess set featuring pieces that looked somewhat like “honeydrippers:”

Sculptured “Classic” Chess by Peter Ganine, Classic No. 1494
Pacific Game Company, North Hollywood CA, 1961

You can see a nice close-up here:

There are just too many appearance of this set of game pieces to post every screen grabs of every appearance.  But these Ganine “Classic Style” chess pieces are the pieces we generally associate with the Star Trek three dimensional chess set:

Here’s a shot my my Peter Ganine “Gothic Style” chess pieces:

And here’s a shot of my Peter Ganine “Classic Style” chess pieces.

Coming soon: more on the chess board apparatus itself.

Franklin Mint Set

The Star Trek Tridimensional Chess Set was an officially-licensed release from Franklin Mint in 1993. It is modeled on the 3-D chess games used aboard the USS Enterprise as seen in Star Trek: The Original Series.

The board — produced in approximately half-scale to those actually used on the show — was styled to match the look of the Star Trek Commemorative Chess Set (also from Franklin Mint) in that the playing surface is clear and blue-tinted acrylic (the Commemorative set's board was made of glass). The supports for the main boards are gold-plated, as is the Classic Enterprise Command Insignia inlaid to the round base.

Unlike the Commemorative set, however, the pieces were made from a sturdier base metal than pewter, but still plated in either 24-karat gold or sterling silver. The pieces were also styled after those seen on TOS and in the Franz Joseph Star Fleet Technical Manual.

The set was issued with an authenticity certificate, a storage case for the pieces, and a rulebook for playing the game. The last of these was a duplicate of fan-produced rules first published in 1977 in the "Star Trek Giant Poster Book", but with no acknowledgment of the original author.