Old English 'Barleycorn'

Barleycorn sets

Old English ‘Barleycorn’ sets are so called because of the corn leaves and husks engraved and carved on the main pieces. 

In England, barleycorn sets were among the most common ones in the 19th century. Produced around 1820 up until 1850. They occur in many different sizes, are of varying quality and, like most ivory and bone sets, first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century. This was due to the decline of trade with Napoleon’s France, when the supply of playing sets from Dieppe and other French sources declined (source: Keats, Chessmen).

Almost always, one side is stained red, the other left natural. The name Barleycorn derives from the corn leaf and husk decoration on the main pieces. In one type of barleycorn set, all the pieces, except the rooks, rise from plain circular bases to baluster stands, which in the king and queen support heavy cylindrical bodies decorated with two bands of corn husks and one of corn leaves. The king then rises to a serrated double crown, often surmounted by a Maltese cross, while the queen has a further collar of corn leaves, surmounted with either a coronet or a reeded ball. The bishops are mitres, and the knights boldly carved horses heads. The rooks are castellated towers, sometimes surmounted with a reeded ball, sometimes with a  flag.

Barleycorn Set

Barleycorn bone set, in traditional red and white. Some sections do unscrew. King stands at 84mm. Source: chess-museum.