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Muzzle Blasts Online
Muzzle Blasts Online Cover
Apr 1998/May 1998 Volume 3, Number 2

A Fresh Horn

As an item related inseparably to muzzleloading firearms, the ubiquitous powder horn has been well covered in this and other publications. There are several books partly or wholly devoted to the 18th century powder horn in America. But with this article I present a horn which I own and which is fresh to the study of antique horns. I bought it in the seventies from a junk shop in Manchester, England. It has never been photographed or written up in any journal until now. I do not pretend to be a great student of mid-eighteenth century horns; but I appreciate them. I have also made horns, as I suspect many of us do, and I have discussed the subject with more learned devotees such as Russ and Dr. DeWitt Bailey.

The photos will speak for themselves. This is a plainly fashioned horn which has nonetheless been shaped down considerably, as evidenced by the swelling near the pouring tip. Scrape marks are still present on the horn and the engraving was applied over this imperfect surface.

Horns such as this are generally believed to be North American in origin, made by their users in garrison or in settlements on the frontier. But there is evidence that many hundreds were in fact made in a cottage industry in the old country and exported. I don't have much documentation on the extent of this trade, but the powder horn, like other essential tools, was subject to supply and demand.

Individual makers of horns are difficult to identify because few of them signed their products. But surviving horns can be attributed to the same hand by comparing details of design and calligraphy. Distinctive features on my horn include the lion's face, spear-point trees, and the deer. [Editor's Note: Alert students of antique horns will detect a clear connection between the author's horn and the work of the "Pointed Tree Carver" documented in The Engraved Powder Horn by Jim Dresslar and David Wesbrook (Bargersville, IN: Dresslar Publishing, 1996); see specifically pp. 23, 111, and 113.] This horn also bears some unskilled engraving presumably added by its owner: a couple of trees and the word Dieu enclosed by a snake.

Inscriptions on the horn include "Dieu et mon Droit" and "Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense" ("God and my Right" and "Evil to Him who thinks Evil", respectively; both are common slogans on engraved horns.) A hunter clad in knee breeches takes aim with a flintlock long gun at three fleeing deer; his eager dog leaps to the chase.

Since this horn is missing its base plug, its vendor assumed it to be a blowing horn. I don't recall his asking price, but we settled on five pounds. I'm not interested in selling the horn, as it doesn't eat grass and I don't have to clean up after it. This previously unpublicized horn may contribute in some measure to the serious study of antique horns.

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