Lot #424. Type II Decorative Barleycorn Chessmen


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Type II Decorative Barleycorn Chessmen.

This offering is a fine example of a set of very early Type II Decorative Barleycorn Chessmen, with broad, heavily adorned, bodies on the Royal Pieces with fine acanthus leaf carving and an unusual “double-cross” King’s finial. The chessmen are all mounted atop smooth baluster stems with “lobed” circular bases. The chessmen are fabricated from natural and red-stained bone. The King stands an impressive 4-1/4″ tall with a 1-3/8″ diameter base. The Rooks are massive, reticulated towers, extremely intricately carved, with a heavily detailed body,  surmounted with a double tower and a very detailed flag finial.  The Bishops, Knights and Pawns are baluster mounted headpieces with lobed bases. The  chessmen are in excellent condition, although one Rook has a full length crack, fairly typical for Barleycorn chessmen. True Barleycorn style chessmen have broad barrel-bodied Kings and Queens, and are normally fabricated from bone, rarely ivory. Very few Barleycorn chess sets would surpass this set in terms of sheer detailed workmanship.  The set was probably produced between 1820 and 1840. The antique chessboard shown is not part of this auction, but may be purchased elsewhere on this site.

The term Type II English Barleycorn chessmen is used to describe a range of Barleycorn designs which feature highly decorated, fluted bodies and ornate finials often with carved acanthus leaves atop the Kings. The better sets will often have copious leaf and rope carvings on the bodies of the Royal pieces and cogged or lobed cases. These chessmen were primarily fabricated from bone and were made  in England during the 19th centuryThe Queens will have reeded spherical crowns, usually with small, simple finials. The Royal pieces will be pedestal mounted, often with reeded details. Rooks are normally stout towers, often sporting tapered staffs or secondary towers and flags. Bishops, Knights and Pawns are baluster mounted, often reeded.  The English Barleycorn Type II chess sets 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!) Barleycorn chess sets were in common use through the early 20th Century. 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. 

Additional information

Weight6 lbs
Dimensions12 × 12 × 10 in

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