Sale 20AM01 | Lot 235

Engraved Powder Horn

Catalogue: American Paintings, Furniture & Decorative Arts
Engraved Powder Horn

Lot Details

Lot 235
Engraved Powder Horn
French and Indian War, mid-18th century
Engraved with a map depicting forts and towns including Albany, Schenectady, Niagara; figures, and the royal arms, inscribed John Kane, etc. Length 13 1/4 inches.

Eighteenth century engraved powder horns reveal a great deal of information about early life in America. These prized possessions were carried by farmers as well as hunters in the unexplored wilderness, then on the battlefields. The horns from oxen or cows were scraped and polished to carry gunpowder for their musket, fowler, flintlock rifle, or pistol. The horns proved to be a lightweight, waterproof, and fireproof option to carry powder that was both plentiful and affordable. It could also serve as a canteen for water or container for salt. The curve of the horn s, attached to a hunting rifle by a long strap or slung across the shoulder, fit to the natural form of the body.
While a practical necessity, an engraved horn also reflected the life of the man carrying it, documenting his interests and serving as a souvenir of his travels. The prime of engraved powder horns was during the French and Indian War from 1754-1763 and the American Revolutionary War from 1775-1783. European and English powder horns from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries were made out of bovine horn, but also stag horn or tortoiseshell. Engravings also often included coat of arms and elaborate pictorial scenes or dates. In the early 1700s, America horns were unadorned. Decorating the horns was a way to pass the time, but also helped distinguish horns from each other. With a pocketknife or engraver's tool, letters, dates, names, locations, animals, etc., were scratched into the horn. Brown paint was rubbed into the decoration to highlight the designs.
Men personalized their horns to commemorate battles including maps of the terrain they had fought. This example includes several forts, bodies of water, and towns. John Kane inscribed his name on this example along with the royal coat-of-arms of the United Kingdom. British arms were often found on horns owned by Americans before the Revolution or British officers serving in America.
By the time of the French and Indian war, the nature of battles had changed in America. The expeditions and sieges were longer, while there was down time in forts or around campfires to decorate them, making the horns more of a personalized accessory. This was also a time where soldiers travelled on uncharted land, previously known only to fur traders. Few printed paper maps existed, so this was a way to guide the frontiersmen. The map carved on this example includes markings of various forts including Edward, George, Miller, Still Water, Half Moon, and Hunter in the Hudson and Mohawk River Valleys that run through New York state and over to Canada. Not all the soldiers were literate, so spelling mistakes are common. On this example we see "F. Bruinton" for Fort Brewerton, which was established in 1759, North of Syracuse.
By the mid-nineteenth century, with the proliferation of new gun technologies, powder horns fell out of fashion as guns required more powder than a horn could hold. Soldiers used metal powder flasks or cartridges instead and the horns became commodity items sold in general stores. The engraved powder horn offered is a true early American relic. Carried by one John Kane through the forests, fields and towns of New York 260 years ago.

High Value Lot -- We are anticipating strong interest in this lot. Please email us at [email protected] to request an increase in your bid limit as soon as possible. Bidding in this auction beyond $20,000 requires a request in writing. The volume of bidding will be high, so we suggest that you place bids in advance of the closing date. The text of this lot updated on April 18.


C Property of the Estate of Arthur Gross

Estimate: $5,000 - $8,000
Sold for $4,375 (includes buyer's premium)

Additional Notes & Condition Report

The horn with four small holes open end; the tip missing a small piece

No condition report? Click here to request one.

Estimate: $5,000 - $8,000
Sold for $4,375 (includes buyer's premium)

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Catalogue Info

American Paintings, Furniture & Decorative Arts

Tue, Apr 21, 2020 at 10am EDT