Lot #825. Antique English Bone Barleycorn Chessmen Type I


A fine example of a set of very early Type I Barleycorn Chessmen, fabricated from natural and Cochineal-stained bone. This King stands 3.6″ tall with a 1.25″ diameter base. Housed in its original mahogany slide-top box. Circa 1820

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Type I Bone Barleycorn Chessmen.

Paul Morphy
Paul Morphy

Offered here is fine example of a set of very early Type I Bone Barleycorn Chessmen, with simple turned ringed features on the Royal Pieces. The Type I Bone Barleycorn Chess pieces are all mounted atop smooth baluster stems with simple circular bases. The chessmen are fabricated from natural and Cochineal-stained bone. This set is very similar 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. This King stands 3.6″ tall with a 1.25″ diameter base. The Rooks are broad, reticulated towers with smooth rings and tapered staffs surmounted with a ball finial.  The Bishops, Knights and Pawns are baluster mounted headpieces. The chessmen are housed in their original Mahogany slide-top box. The chessmen are in excellent condition. The set was produced in the U.K. between 1820 and 1840.

Cochineal Dye. To create the red dye, Carminic acid is extracted from the female cochineal insects and is treated to produce carmine, which can yield shades of red such as crimson and scarlet. The body of the insect is 19–22% carminic acid. The insects are processed by immersion in hot water or exposure to sunlight, steam, or the heat of an oven. Each method produces a different color that results in the varied appearance of commercial cochineal. It takes about 80,000 to 100,000 insects to make one kilogram of cochineal dye.

The term Type I Bone Barleycorn Chessmen is used to describe a range of Barleycorn designs which feature plain ringed bodies on the Kings and Queens. The Queens frequently sport a large, reticulated plume headpiece. The Kings can have a number of headpiece configurations, normally fluted and surmounted by a reticulated sphere. Rooks are normally stout towers, often sporting tapered staffs with or without flags. Bishops, Knights and Pawns are headpieces mounted atop baluster pedestals.  The Type I Barleycorn chess sets probably first appeared at the end of the 18th century. and were manufactured in Europe throughout the 19th century.
These popular Barleycorn design suffered from instability and fragility. Other common complaints were that 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!) The Type I Bone 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

Weight4 lbs
Dimensions12 × 12 × 10 in

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