Great Britain   September 29, 1976       Woodcut of the philosopher from The Game and Playe of Chesse


143.  Caxton woodcut 1483


Original art work:





In circa 1300, Jacobus de Cessolis (c1250 - c1322) - a Dominican friar - produced, in Latin, the text ‘De Moribus Hominum et de Officiis Nobilium Super Ludo Scaccorum’ which translates roughly as: About the Customs of Men and the Noble Actions involving the Game of Chess.

Caxton’s text The Game and Playe of Chesse is an English translation of the original Latin text by Cessolis. However, Caxton did not translate directly from the original Latin into English, but made use of two French translations of the Latin text, namely by Jean de Vignay in Bruges, and a second translation by Jean Ferron. Christine Knowles (1954) argues that Caxton must have had access not only to the French manuscript(s), but to the Latin original as well.

In any event, Caxton completed his translation into English in 1474, and then printed the first edition of The Game and Playe of Chesse in 1476 whilst working in Bruges. He printed his second edition in Westminster in 1483. The second edition is largely a reprint of the first edition but with a new preface, new epilogue, various small changes, and, importantly, the addition of the famous woodcuts. The woodcuts do not appear in the first edition. For a detailed comparison of the first and second editions, see Wilson (1947).

The woodcut of the philosopher that appears on the stamp makes two separate appearances in Caxton's second edition.


  • Axon, William E. (1883), Caxton's Game and Playe of the Chesse. A verbatim reprint of the first edition, 1883, London. [via Project Gutenberg]

  • Caxton, William (1483), The Game and Playe of Chesse, second edition, 1483, Westminster [via Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress]

  • Knowles, Christine (1954), Caxton and His Two French Sources: The ‘Game and Playe of the Chesse’ and the Composite Manuscripts of the Two French Translations of the ‘Ludus Scaccorum’, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 49, No. 4. (Oct., 1954), pp. 417-423.

  • Wilkinson, Charles K. (1943), A Thirteenth-Century Morality, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Summer, 1943), pp. 47-55.

  • Wilson, Robert H. (1947), Caxton's Chess Book, Modern Language Notes, Vol. 62 No. 2 (Feb 1947), pp. 93-102.