Yorkshire Chess History
Origin in West Prussia
Two passport applications and a US naturalisation application state that Hartwig Cassel was born on 02/11/1850, at Könitz in West Prussia, which is now Chojnice in Poland, and is not to be confused with the Könitz in modern Thuringen (Thuringia). The second passport application explicitly states that his place of birth was by then (1921) in Poland. The Jewish Encyclopaedia tells us his father was Aaron Cassel, the local rabbi, and that he was educated at the Real-Gymnasium in Landsberg-an-der-Warthe, which also is now in Poland and is called Gorzow Wielkopolksi. The Warthe is a tributary of the Oder, entering from the east, and is called Warta in Polish. The great Emmanuel Lasker reportedly attended the same gymnasium some fifteen years later.
New Life in Britain
In 1879 he emigrated to the United Kingdom, more specifically Glasgow. The 1881 Scottish Census found 30-year-old Hartwig Cassel lodging in the establishment of the Walker family along with five other lodgers, one of whom was 26-year-old Richard Cassel who was very probably a brother of Hartwig. As regards occupation, Hartwig was a piano dealer, while Richard was a student of English. The two were described as born in Berlin, which seems not to be accurate, though they may have been in Berlin prior to moving to Glasgow.
In 1881, Hartwig Cassel moved to Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The Post Office Bradford Directory, 1883, listed Hartwig Cassel in the street section as teacher of languages, residing at 9 St Jude’s Square, Bradford. In the alphabetical section he was described as professor of German. Clearly he’d given up selling pianos. The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent Weekly Supplement of Saturday 09/01/1886 quoted the same address for him.
White's Directory of Bradford, Halifax &c, 1887, didn’t seem to list him, and his former address in St Jude’s Square was occupied by a different person, but he was active in or around Bradford, somewhere, up to 1888 inclusive.
That he was planning to remove himself from the Yorkshire chess scene, for an extended period or permanently, was perhaps what prompted him to resign as honorary secretary of the West Yorkshire Chess Association, whose committee held a meeting on 28/10/1887 to consider his replacement, who was fellow Bradfordian Antonio Fattorini. Hartwig Cassel himself dated his immigration into the United States as 02/12/1889.
A Career Turning Point
At the American Chess Congress at Havana from March to May 1889, Isidor Gunsberg had come a very close third to the joint winners Mikhail Chigorin and Max Weiss. As a result Gunsberg had challenged Chigorin to a match, which was arranged to start on 01/01/1890. This proved a major influence on Hartwig Cassel’s future, as he got the job of covering the match as a newspaper reporter. He and Chigorin set sail from Liverpool on 23/11/1889 aboard the SS Alaska, which called at Queenstown, Ireland, then at New York, where it arrived on 02/12/1889, and then went on to Havana, Cuba. The passenger list supplied to the New York shipping authorities listed the two as travelling in cabins, as opposed to steerage, having two pieces of luggage each, and being in transit to Havana as opposed to travelling to New York as their ultimate destination. Nevertheless, Hartwig Cassel was later to repeatedly quote the 2nd of December 1889 as the date he entered the United States as an immigrant.
After the match, Hartwig Cassel was offered the job of overseeing the sport and chess columns of "The New Yorker Staats Zeitung", which he accepted. Whether he had initially intended to emigrate to the US is unclear, but following acceptance of the job offer, the US became his normal place of residence.
New Life in America
In 1890 or 1891 he married Margarethe, aka Marguerite or occasionally Margaret, who like him had been born in Germany of German-born parents. She had arrived as an immigrant to the US in 1888. The couple had a daughter called Therese, who was born, in New York, apparently in 1892.
In time he sought to become a naturalised US citizen, which was effected by the Superior Court of New York, at New York City, on 3rd December 1894. His naturalisation certificate gave his address as 160 East 60th Street, New York, and his occupation as that of journalist. Rather humorously the space for entry of his former nationality contained the phrase “Emperor of Germany”, which presumably meant “Empire of Germany”, or “German Empire” as the unified German states had been known since 1871.
In May 1901 he applied for a US passport for himself, his wife and his daughter. The naturalised citizen’s passport application form, like a later one, not only gives Hartwig Cassel’s own statement of his date and place of birth, but asserts his uninterrupted residence in the US for eleven years from 1889 to 1901, and his naturalisation on 03/12/1894. It gave his occupation as that of journalist. The delivery address for the passport was simply “Hartwig Cassel, P.O. Box 1207, New York City”.
The application had no attached photograph, but listed the following nine physical characteristics:
The purpose of the passport application was a family trip to Germany, perhaps so that the grandparents could see Therese. A later passport application, in 1921, formally listed his previous periods of residence outside the US as 30/05/1901 to 20/08/1901 in Germany, and March to April 1913 in Cuba. At the end of the German trip he and his family departed from Hamburg on 18/08/1901 aboard the Graf Waldersee which called at Boulogne-sur-mer and Plymouth before arriving at New York.
The 1910 census listed 59-year-old Hartwig Cassel, his 47-year-old wife Marguerite, and 18-year-old daughter Therese, at a boarding house, seemingly on Madison Avenue, run by Mathilde Becker, a German-born lady who’d arrived in the US in 1876. Hartwig’s choice of wife and landlady suggest he liked to retain a closeness to his German origins.
The 1913 trip to Cuba mentioned on his 1921 passport application had been to report for Associated Press on the 1913 Havana international tournament in which local player José Raúl Capablanca finished second to the American Frank James Marshall. He departed home from Havana, Cuba, aboard the Havana, on 08/03/1913, arriving at New York on 12/03/1913. His home address was given at this time as Hotel Brunswick, New York City. That was presumably not a permanent address.
The 1920 census found the family of three resident at 113th Street, Manhattan, New York. Mrs. Cassel’s forename was given as the English “Margaret”.
He made another naturalised citizen’s passport application in 1921. His address was given as 610, West 113th Street, New York, and his occupation more specifically as chess journalist. The stated purpose of the passport had originally been “to visit Cuba, reporting a chess match,” but “a chess match” was crossed out and “for Assoc. Press” inserted instead. It stated his departure to be intended as being aboard the Morro Castle, sailing on 05/03/1921. The match he was reporting on, for Associated Press, was the Lasker-Capablanca World Championship match from 15/03/1921 to 28/04/1921. After the match he departed from Havana aboard the Morro Castle, arriving back in New York on 09/05/1921. The passenger listed quoted the same home address, 610, West 113th Street, New York.
The 1925 census found the family of three still at 610, West 113th Street, New York. Mrs. Cassel’s forename was given as “Marguerete”, which is presumably an Anglicised version of German “Margarethe”.
He and his wife were on another trip to Europe in 1926, as they appear in the passenger list of the SS Estonia, which departed from Copenhagen on 21/07/1926, and arrived in New York on 02/08/1926. On this occasion his wife’s name was spelt “Magarethe”.
The same seems to have occurred in 1927, as Hartwig and Magarethe Cassel are listed in the passenger list of the Lituania (no “h”) which departed from Danzig in Poland, and arrived in New York on 28/08/1927. Their address was still given as 610, West 113th Street, New York. Mrs. Cassel’s forename was again spelt “Magarethe”.
Various sources, including the Jewish Encyclopaedia, tacitly omit reference to his death, the date and place of which are somewhat elusive. Wikipedia says it was in 1929, but doesn’t give a date, place, or circumstances. Fortunately, page 351 of the British Chess Magazine, 1929, records his death.
An article in the American Chess Magazine of 1897 says he learnt to play chess at school, becoming a strong player during a period of residence in Berlin.
After taking up residence in Glasgow, he joined Glasgow Chess Club. He’s mentioned as being from Glasgow on page 191 of the British Chess Magazine of 1881.
After moving to Bradford he became heavily involved in Bradford chess and the West Yorkshire Chess Association, and later promoted the formation of the Yorkshire County Chess Club.
Bradford Chess club, formed in 1853, was arguably in some degree of stagnation when “Herr Cassel” arrived in Bradford, and he seems to have felt the old Bradford Chess Club would not afford him adequate outlet for his enthusiasm for chess organisation, and he was instrumental in forming the short-lived Bradford Exchange Chess Club around Autumn of 1883. Nevertheless, the two clubs were to merge later in 1884, in time to present a united Bradfordian front in the Woodhouse Cup competition which was soon to come in to existence
He attended each annual meeting of the West Yorkshire Chess Association from 1882 to 1886 inclusive, as a member of Bradford Chess Club. He attended the meetings of 1887 and 1888, but now as a member of Manningham Chess Club, Manningham being a district of Bradford.
His career as a chess journalist seems to have started when he took over editing the chess column in the Bradford Observer Budget from Daniel Yarnton Mills when Mills went to Manchester, but his main source of income then was presumably from teaching foreign languages. (Joseph Algernon Woollard took over the column after Hartwig Cassel’s departure to New York.)
Not only was he developing an interest in chess journalism, but he was also becoming something of a chess entrepreneur, engineering matches and events. He brought about the match between Joseph Henry Blackburne and Isidor Gunsberg, in Bradford, in 1887. He seems also to have been involved in preliminary arrangements for the BCA’s international tournament at Bradford in 1888 for which Isaac McIntyre Brown was the secretary.
As described above, in 1889 he accompanied Isidor Gunsberg to Havana to report on the Chigorin-Gunsberg match, leading to him taking up residence in the United States.
In New York, besides working for the New Yorker Staats Zeitung, he wrote a chess column on Sundays in the New York Sun, and also wrote in the New York Tribune.
He was instrumental in getting the Staats Zeitung to present a trophy for competition between clubs of New York State, and was instrumental in the institution of the Rice Trophy.
He organised the first transatlantic cable match, in 1895, between Manhattan Chess Club and London’s British Chess Club. This led to the series of regular Anglo-American cable matches. In this connection he is said to be the inventor of the code system used for chess played by cable. He also dreamt up the idea of a transatlantic inter-varsity cable match.
In 1898 the American Chess Magazine printed a cartoon which featured him in the context of him being a chess organiser
With Hermann Helms, Hartwig Cassel edited the American Chess Bulletin, the first issue of which was published in 1904.
It has been suggested that the value of his contribution to stimulating interest in chess in the United States has not been fully recognised.
Copyright © 2012, 2014 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information