Type I English Barleycorn Chess Set.
This offering is a fine example of a very early Type I English Barleycorn Playing Chess set, with broad, heavily adorned, fluted bodies on the Royal Pieces with fine acanthus leaf carving atop the King’s “fountain-type” finial. The chessmen are all mounted atop smooth baluster stems with “cogged” circular bases.The chessmen are fabricated from natural and red-stained bone. True Barleycorn style chessmen have broad barrel-bodied Kings and Queens, and are normally fabricated from bone, rarely ivory. The King stands an impressive 4-3/4″ tall with a 1-3/8″ diameter base. The Rooks are massive, reticulated towers with fluted bases, cogged rings and a tapered staff surmounted with a ball finial. The characteristic flags are missing from the Rooks. The Bishops, Knights and Pawns are baluster mounted headpieces with cogged bases and collars. The missing flags aside, the chessmen are in excellent condition. Very few Barleycorn chess sets would surpass this set in terms of sheer size, craftsmanship and ornate detail. The set was probably produced between 1820 and 1840.
The term Type I English Barleycorn chess set is used to describe a range of Barleycorn designs which feature highly decorated, fluted bodies and fountain 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 cases. These chessmen were primarily fabricated from bone and were made in England during the 19th century. The Queens will have reeded spherical crowns, usually with small, simple finials. The Royal pieces will be pedestal mounted, often with reeded details and cogged collars. 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 I 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.