Barley Sheaves

Victorian English Cast Iron "Barley Sheaf" Mantel Decorations (LEO Design)

For centuries, before modern harvesting equipment was developed, grain products were "reaped" by hand.  A field of grain (like barley, rye or wheat) was harvested by a team of workers.  With the harvesters moving in a clockwise circle (and starting on the edge of the field), one person used a sickle or scythe to cut the grain stalks.  "Following" laborers would then gather a bunch of these stalks into "sheaves"—which they would tie-up with a few of those same stalks.  The team would move around the perimeter of the field, getting closer to the center with every pass. Often, several sheaves would then be stacked together, leaning inwards, into a "stook."

Why sheaves?  By cutting the stalks and binding them into a self-standing form, the grain could air dry before further processing—and the edible heads would be up and out of the reach of vermin.  Further, the sheafs could be easily transported and "threshed"—that is, beaten to loosen and separate the grains from the stalks. After threshing, the grain heads needed to be "winnowed" which would separate the edible grain from the inedible husks or "chaff." 

The cast iron sheaves, shown above, were made in Victorian England (c. 1890). They were intended as mantelpiece decorations—ornaments atop a fireplace, shelf or windowsill. Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.


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