Paul Morphy Type II Barleycorn Chessmen

Lot #391. Paul Morphy Type II Barleycorn Chessmen

Paul Morphy Type II Barleycorn Chessmen.

Paul Morphy
Paul Morphy

This offering is a fine example of a set of very early Paul Morphy Type II Barleycorn Chessmen, with broad, simple turned ringed features on the Royal Pieces. The chessmen are all mounted atop smooth baluster stems with simple circular bases.The chessmen are fabricated from natural and red-stained bone. This set is identical to the chess pieces shown in the adjacent image on a chess table with Paul Morphy on the frontispiece of Philip Sergeant’s Morphy’s Games of Chess . True Barleycorn style chessmen have broad barrel-bodied Kings and Queens, and are normally fabricated from bone, rarely ivory. The King stands 4-0″ tall with a 1-3/8″ diameter base. The Rooks are massive, reticulated towers with simple turned adornments and a tapered staff surmounted with a staff finial. The characteristic flags stand prominently atop the Rooks.  The Bishops, Knights and Pawns are baluster mounted headpieces with simple turned bases and collars. The chessmen are in excellent condition. The set was probably produced between 1820 and 1840. The antique Chessboard and chess timer shown in the accompanying images are not included, but can be purchased elsewhere on this site.

The term Type II English Barleycorn chessmen is used to describe a range of Barleycorn designs which feature simple turned, ringed bodies and ornate finials.  These chessmen were primarily fabricated from bone and were made  in England throughout the 19th centuryThe chess pieces, with the exception of the Rooks, will be pedestal mounted. The Rooks are normally stout towers, often sporting tapered staffs or secondary towers and flags. The English Barleycorn chessmen first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century, which coincided with the advent of the ornamental lathe.

This poplar design suffered from instability and fragile details which were easily broken. Other common complaints were that the “busy” design could disturb a player’s concentration and the size of the Royal pieces often obscured the view of the other chessmen during play. (Needless to say, these sets were not conducive to Blitz Chess!). Despite its early popularity, the design was quickly replaced by the now standard Staunton chessmen, first offered in September of 1849. The new Staunton  chessmen proved to be much more stable, durable and suitable for practical play. 

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