This offering is a fine example of a set of very early Type I Morphy Barleycorn Chess Pieces, with broad, simple turned ringed features on the Royal Pieces. The Type I Morphy Barleycorn Chess pieces 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. This King stands 3.9″ tall with a 1.0″ diameter base. The Rooks are broad, reticulated towers with cogged rings and a flagless tapered staff surmounted with a ball finial. The Bishops, Knights and Pawns are baluster mounted headpieces. The chessmen are in very good condition. The set was probably produced in Germany between 1790 and 1800.
The term Type I Barleycorn Chess Pieces 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. These chessmen were primarily fabricated from bone and were manufactured in Europe during the 19th century. 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.
The 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!) 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.