James Mason In America

The Early Chess Career, 1867 – 1878

Joost van Winsen

Reviewer: John Donaldson
373 pages (hardback)

James Mason In America by the Dutch writer Joost van Winsen, chronicles the life of one of the most important American chess figures of the last half of the 19th century.

English language speakers who came up through the ranks in the early 1970s likely were exposed to editions of The Principles Of Chess and The Art Of Chess by one James Mason. What they likely didn’t realize was that these popular treatises on the game had been in print for close to a century and that the author’s real name was not actually James Mason. One of the first things we learn in James Mason In America is that Mason’s real name is not known. This is quite something when one considers that Mason, who won the 4th American Chess Congress in 1876, was one of the top American players in the late 1860s and throughout the 1870s. His strength can be instantly validated by his 11 – 4 match victory over Henry Bird.

Author Joost van Winsen not only examines Mason’s career in depth, but also that of contemporaries like his great rival George McKenzie and other important figures of the day including Lowenthal, Stanley, Reichelm, Winawer, Zuckertort, and Blackburne. These figures are not only examined through their games, but also their writings. The 1860s and 1870s were a golden time for chess journalism in the United States with five major columns including Mason’s in The Spirit of the Times. Joost van Winsen makes copious use of this material in recreating the time. A particularly nice touch is the reproduction of drawings of several chess clubs of the day that were housed in quite substantial buildings which makes one wonder if the game wasn’t better respected then.

James Mason In America is a first rate effort that will be fascinating reading for anyone interested in chess in 19th century America. Like all McFarland books this one features a first-class productions effort with high quality paper and library binding.