Board Game Case with Counters

Southern Germany (Augsburg?), first third of the seventeenth century; Frame with panels of crab-apple wood (Malus sp.); horn marquetry in various colours and with gilded or silver-plated engravings; mother of pearl with black engraving, reverse glass gilding on the front panel; fire-gilded brass cornerpieces. Counters made of oak, the front overlaid with fretworked and engraved mother of pearl or horn, underneath, in layers, transparent muscovite coated with copper resinate or gold on the back, partially on paper or gilded brass leaf. On the back, horn with gilded or silver-plated engraving. Inv. no. Id 1156 a,b (1–29); provenance unknown, repatriated from the Soviet Union in 1958.

The interior of this case contains an ornately designed Tric-trac board, an early form of backgammon. One of the external panels bears a board design for draughts or checkers, the other a rich, ornamental grotesque. All 15 black counters and 14 of the white ones have been preserved, but no dice. The intricate inlay technique and ornamental style suggest the case was produced in Augsburg, which was the leading centre for such ornamental woodwork in Germany.  

The damage to the case and playing pieces included sections of loose and missing horn and mother of pearl, as well as discolorations, heavy encrustations on the surface and non-original treatments. The combination of diverse materials made the conservation a particularly complicated affair. The various hygroscopic properties of horn, mother of pearl, brass leaf and muscovite had compromised their adhesion to the surface of the wood.

The typical tasks of the wood restorers included affixing loose marquetry (inlaying) and painstakingly replacing missing elements. Remnants of glue had to be thoroughly removed in order to provide the new glues with adequate surfaces to which to adhere. 

The priority of the conservational measures was the prevention of further losses to the material. This involved retaining the parts that had been preserved, so as to give as clear an image as possible of the original conception of the work.

Conservator-restorers involved: Christian Fischer, Kunstgewerbemuseum; Josefin Tönjes, student at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Hildesheim