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Type II English Barleycorn Chessmen, circa 1830

A set of very early Type II English 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 “cogged” circular bases.

The chessmen are fabricated from natural and red-stained bone. The King stands 4″ tall with a 1-3/8″ diameter base. The Rooks are massive, reticulated towers, extremely intricately carved, with a heavily detailed body. The flags surmounted atop the Rooks are present, but not shown in the images provided. very detailed flag finial. The Bishops, Knights and Pawns are typical baluster mounted headpieces. True Barleycorn style chessmen have broad barrel-bodied Kings and Queens, and are normally fabricated from bone, rarely ivory. These English Barleycorn Chessmen are in Very Good-to-excellent condition. This set of chessmen was probably produced between 1820 and 1840. The antique chessboard shown is not part of this auction, but a suitable can 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 century. The Queens will have spherical crowns 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 English Barleycorn Chessmen 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.

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