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

Other characteristics are cogged round bases, reeded balls, bold Kings and Queens, fat Rooks with finial and flags; Bishops with deep slit and a round Knight. 

Decorated sets with other motives, like leaves only, acanthus, ropetwist, etc are often mistakenly called Barleycorn. This is also the case with undecorated sets. Even German Nuremberg sets, with the same overall appearance, are often misjudged as English Barleycorn. 

Production of Barleycorn sets started around 1820. It is said that the introduction of the Holtzapffel lathe made the repeated grain decoration possible, but that machines can make only a defined number of repetitions and we count non-matching numbers. The end of production is less clear, but possibly production lasted until the end of the 19th century. The company F.H. Ayres, founded in 1864, made Barleycorn sets, but it is unclear when they ended their production line.

Most Barleycorn sets are made of bone, but ivory sets exist as well. It is unclear whether wooden sets exist at all. Overall, Barleycorn sets are not as common as many think. 


Barleycorn Set

Early to mid 19th century. Bone. King 10cm. Pawn 4.1cm.

Source: www.schaak-museum.nl. 

Barleycorn Set by F.H. Ayres

Second half of 19th century. Bone. King 13.3cm. Pawn 4.7cm.

Source: www.schaak-museum.nl.