Lot #354. Type I Morphy Barleycorn Chess Set


Type I Morphy Barleycorn Chess Pieces.

Paul Morphy
Paul Morphy

This is the very first chess set I ever owned, hence it is not for sale, but shown here for information purposes only. It is 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 Cochineal-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.

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 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 centuryRooks 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. 

Additional information

Weight6 lbs
Dimensions12 × 12 × 10 in

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