The Victorian Barleycorn pattern was one of the most popular English Pre-Staunton designs. These red and white sets were almost always made from bone, rather than ivory, and the shape of the original materials was a factor in the design. Several pieces, flat bases, thin stems and finials, and thick sections which are hollow were threaded and screwed together to make each piece because of the limited shapes of the hollow marrow bones with which the carvers began. Looking at the design of a chess set with common sense is a good way to determine ivory from bone. If a set is made in several bits that can be broken down to thin flat pieces and hollow tubes, it's no coincidence; it's bone. There are a few ivory sets in this shape but it's the exception, not the rule. Barleycorn signatures resemble 19th century English signatures, orbs, towers, horse heads, split mitres, and kings having some sort of orb atop their crowns at least as often as a cross. Barleycorn rook towers are often surmounted by flags or corrugated orbs. The carving is far more elaborate than other period English sets with ornamental turning on piece bodies culminating in an elaborate carved leaf design on the figures of kings and queens. It's these leaves that give the design its name. There's always a debate as to whether or not English and German bone sets which have a similar profile to the Barleycorn pattern but plain turned beads on the royal pieces rather than the leaves that give the name should be called Barleycorn anyway. You get classifications like 'plain barleycorn' (no leaves) vs 'true barleycorn' for sets which have the corn leaf pattern. In any event my only Barleycorn, c.1850s English, has the leaves so I don't have to sweat that issue. The set which inspired the original artwork for 'Through the Looking Glass' was probably one of the plain English sets which resemble these, but as I have no such set, I couldn't resist paying an homage on this page. Here are some shots of my Barleycorn set. Kings 3 5/8 inch.
Victorian Barleycorn Chess Set.
"'I declare it’s marked out just like a large chess-board!' Alice said at last."
"I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might jointhough of course I should like to be a Queen, best."
Carved leaves on royal pieces give this design its name.
Red corn leaves.
"...the Red Queen drew herself up rather stiffly, and said 'Queens never make bargains.'"
Red king and bishop.
Rooks are adorned with carved flags.
Flags are carved so thin sunlight pierces the bone like real fabric.
Red flag flies...
... in the distance.
"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.
If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
"There ought to be some men moving about somewhereand so there are!"
"Ahoy! Ahoy! Check!"
"'You're my prisoner!' the Knight cried, as he tumbled off his horse."
Hard lines carved in the white king.
"The White Queen gave a deep sigh, and laid her head on Alice's shoulder. 'I AM so sleepy?'"
"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backward."