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Login Name Post: How often were powderhorns left raw?        (Topic#305455)
Sooter76 
40 Cal.
Posts: 197
11-14-17 03:36 AM - Post#1651635    


We always see scrimshawed horns and it makes sense that these would be the ones most often preserved. However, I was thinking today and began to wonder if scrimshawed horns were really the norm or not? So out of curiosity, how often donyounthinknhorns were left blank? Do you think doing so was common?

 
Loyalist Dave 
75 Cal.
Posts: 5986
Loyalist Dave
11-14-17 05:57 AM - Post#1651640    

    In response to Sooter76

That's a good question, but a very tough one to answer. There are several factors to consider.

How common was it with the cattle present in the 18th century, to have a horn light in color to the point where one could do the scrimshaw? THAT could give you the answer, alone.

Is the number of extant, surviving "decorated" horns, an overall sample, OR are they surviving because they were scrimshawed, and the more common horns were mostly lost to time? (My father has two powder horns, probably from Appalachia from say the 1870's or younger, very plain but serviceable.)

How much social pressure was there to have a scrimshawed horn? Was it "fancy" or was it considered "macho" to have a horn scrimshawed, and thus the use would vary. Meaning, if it was "fancy", perhaps the owner used it at social events like rifle frolics and monthly musters, BUT in reality when going into the woods normally carried a plain horn. (I have a pale, screw-tip horn that I use at matches and at some living history events, but when I go hunting I use a very plain, brown horn.) Perhaps the horn was a status symbol when white and scrimshawed/carved so ..., how many folks afforded such horns vs. how many would've only had a basic horn?

How does one ensure that the scrimshaw on the horn is contemporary to the horn's making?

How does one actually date a horn that has no date upon it? While there are styles that we understand were prevalent to certain decades..., how can one tell those from a more recent (though still antique) horn where the horn maker created a copy of "one that grand daddy used to carry" ?

Does artwork give us a clue to whether or not scrimshawed or carved horns were prevalent, and when? The next question on the artwork would be whether or not the image was posed, and did the horn belonged to the subject in the painting?

I'd venture a guess (for what that's worth - ain't worth much) that the average guy didn't have access to a horn that could be scrimshawed, and thus the average guy carried a plain horn. (I own one fancy horn, and three plain horns. One, fancy ones are expensive, and Two I wouldn't want to mess up a nice piece of art by busting through the woods with it on my hip)



LD

 
excess650 
45 Cal.
Posts: 980
excess650
11-14-17 06:42 AM - Post#1651653    

    In response to Sooter76

I can't say that I ever saw a "raw" horn converted to carry powder. They were scraped pretty thin.

Most of the original horns that I've seen offered for sale were simple, plain horns. Screw tips, banded horns, and scrimshawed are far less common.

 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 6069
11-14-17 07:17 AM - Post#1651656    

    In response to Loyalist Dave

Though I generally agree very much with LD, the following paragraph may be misleading.

"How common was it with the cattle present in the 18th century, to have a horn light in color to the point where one could do the scrimshaw? THAT could give you the answer, alone."

There was a HUGE trade in leather from Mexico and also horns throughout the 18th century. Horns were very CHEAP because they were considered "waste" to the leather supplying process. Horns only cost a penny apiece, when imported, because they were considered waste and were not taxed when imported.

We tend to forget that "horn" was sort of the period "plastic" and used in a lot more items than just to carry powder. Horners made Combs, thread winders, cups, pill boxes, buttons, salt/pepper/spice horns, etc., etc. from horn. Horners also made both plain and elaborate Powder Horns.

There is a very good chance that many people on the frontier either got plain/finished horns from Horners back east or raw cow horns at trading posts that were originally imported from Mexico, rather than killing the family milk cow or family oxen that pulled plows and did other work. Matter of fact, many of the cattle breeds brought into the Colonies in the 18th century did not have horns that would have made good powder horns.

I have no way to document this, but I'm sure Horners separated at least some horns that could be made into fancy powder horns from the large quantity of horns that were imported. Speaking of fancy horns, has anyone ever documented a screw tip horn that was not the product of the professional Horner's Trade? How about a banded horn?

Fancy Scrimshanded Horns were usually to almost always the product of professional Horners, as well. The "average" person on the frontier probably could not afford one. Actually, it seems fair number of British Officers purchased these elaborately engraved Powder Horns as "mementoes" of their service here in the FIW and AWI.

Simple scratched/scrimshanded horns may only have been done to identify them and most folks on the frontier would not have needed that unless they were going to war. There are accounts where large numbers of raw horns were "issued" to Colonists to use in both the FIW and AWI. Then some of the Militiamen who could do it, would scratch engrave them with the names or marks of the men the horns belonged to. That way when powder horns were collected to be filled, everyone would get their own powder horn back.

Gus

 
BrownBear 
Cannon
Posts: 13690
BrownBear
11-14-17 08:02 AM - Post#1651658    

    In response to excess650

  • excess650 Said:
I can't say that I ever saw a "raw" horn converted to carry powder. They were scraped pretty thin.




That's been my reaction in making them. It's so darned easy and effective to scrape them, even if I bought a horn left raw, I'd be scraping it thinner the moment I got home with it.

Not that I haven't given it some thought every time I make a horn. I went so far as rough-pugging one, strapping it and filling it with powder to try in the field.

I think I learned an important lesson. That one anyway was thicker and so tip-heavy without the scraping that it wanted to ride tip-down after a few minutes of jostling in the field. I didn't like the prospect of the spout plug coming loose and leaving a black trail behind me. With it scraped after the fact, the tendency was for the powder to settle to the butt and keep the tip higher. One horn doesn't paint the whole picture for sure, but it was an eye opener and plenty of food for thought.
"Lay in the weeds and wait, and when you get your chance to say something, say something good."
Merle Haggard


 
Rifleman1776 
Cannon
Posts: 13243
Rifleman1776
11-14-17 10:14 AM - Post#1651668    

    In response to Sooter76

I once sat around a campfire with some very serious, and knowledgeable, collectors of things ml. I listened mostly. The consensus was that many items are missing from collections that represent what the common man owned and used. Whether rifles or accouterments, they were simply tools and not treasured family keepsakes. Therefore, stocks rotted, barrels were reforged into other things, and buggies ate up the powderhorns and leather goods. Your question may never be answered.

 
Loyalist Dave 
75 Cal.
Posts: 5986
Loyalist Dave
11-14-17 06:19 PM - Post#1651756    

    In response to Artificer

  • Quote:
There was a HUGE trade in leather from Mexico and also horns throughout the 18th century. Horns were very CHEAP because they were considered "waste" to the leather supplying process. Horns only cost a penny apiece, when imported, because they were considered waste and were not taxed when imported.

We tend to forget that "horn" was sort of the period "plastic" and used in a lot more items than just to carry powder. Horners made Combs, thread winders, cups, pill boxes, buttons, salt/pepper/spice horns, etc., etc. from horn. Horners also made both plain and elaborate Powder Horns.



Gus you miss my point. It's not a cost thing or a volume thing, but a simple question of did it exist, and in large enough numbers? OF the cattle breeds that were harvested for leather, so their horns were available, how many of those breeds produce horn that was light enough to use for scrimshaw? Yes all of those other items could and were made, BUT they don't require a light color. I have thread winders and spoons and cups all horn, but NONE of them have enough light area if any area, that one can scrimshaw.

On the other hand it may be that Devon cattle or another very common cattle of the time period in Europe, always produces light if not white horns. I'm asking because we could have breeds today that are crossbreed that didn't exist then that produce mostly lovely white horns.



LD



 
Elnathan 
50 Cal.
Posts: 1041
11-14-17 06:53 PM - Post#1651764    

    In response to Loyalist Dave

Raw? None. A horn has to be refined a bit to be usable - the tip has to be thinned down to be useable for pouring, the end has to be cut off and a plug fitted, and some provision has to be made for the carrying strap. Once you've done all that, you might as well take your rasp and knock off any remaining scale, which is pretty ugly rough stuff. Child's play to do so.

There are a couple horns residing with my extended family - one with my parents and one with my aunt and uncle - which are pretty much as crude as you can get. Simple spout treatment, uneven wall thickness at both spout and butt, naturally-shaped plug without any attempt at rounding, entire surface covered in rasp marks. Both have not only had the scale removed, but have been thinned down in such a way to preserve the shape of the horn. I think they represent about the simplest and crudest horns your are ever likely to have seen back in the day, and neither are anywhere near raw.

Plain and unadorned? Probably fairly common, depending on when and where. A lot of the really spectacular pieces seem to come from very specific locals and time period, which suggests that they might not have been all that common elsewhere. OTOH, there is a quote from a late 18th century observer, Isaac Weld I think, describing a party of settlers heading out to Kentucky in which every male had a shot pouch and horn engraved with rough designs, which would suggest that engraved horns weren't all that rare.

I don't think that 18th century horners had much problem getting suitable material for powder horns. I've never seen an 18th century horn that wasn't rounded, for example. Hard to find roundable horns these days. With whole shiploads coming in at a time and powder horns constituting only a small fraction of hornwork, I think they could afford to be pretty picky about what they used. Upshot is that I don't think that supply would have been much of limit on how many scrimshawed horns were made. I have seen the change-over to banded horns in the 19th century attributed in part to changes in the cow breeds used to make the horns, though.

 
Stumpkiller 
Moderator
Posts: 17121
Stumpkiller
11-14-17 07:54 PM - Post#1651773    

    In response to Elnathan

As I understand it plain horns were the powder containers for small purchases.

I have a pair of small horns that have been in the family for some time that have minimal work: some scraping and tip work.

One had shot (mixed sizes) and the other blackpowder when they came to me in the 1960's.



"Don't take life too serious - it ain't nohow permanent."


 
Cruzatte 
45 Cal.
Posts: 891
Cruzatte
11-14-17 08:49 PM - Post#1651786    

    In response to Artificer

  • Artificer Said:

Fancy Scrimshanded Horns were usually to almost always the product of professional Horners, as well. The "average" person on the frontier probably could not afford one. Actually, it seems fair number of British Officers purchased these elaborately engraved Powder Horns as "mementoes" of their service here in the FIW and AWI.

Simple scratched/scrimshanded horns may only have been done to identify them and most folks on the frontier would not have needed that unless they were going to war. There are accounts where large numbers of raw horns were "issued" to Colonists to use in both the FIW and AWI. Then some of the Militiamen who could do it, would scratch engrave them with the names or marks of the men the horns belonged to. That way when powder horns were collected to be filled, everyone would get their own powder horn back.

Gus


As I was reading this, I thought of the man, who as part of a larger trading and hunting party might have quite a bit of time on his hands in winter camp, and take a porte crayon, a sharp awl, blacken in his design when finished, and decorate his own horn.

 
sidelock 
50 Cal.
Posts: 1322
11-14-17 09:01 PM - Post#1651791    

    In response to Sooter76

How often do you see super fancy "BP guns" in use today. I recon that's how often you would see a super fancy horn in the old days.

 
tenngun 
Cannon
Posts: 6407
tenngun
11-14-17 09:54 PM - Post#1651799    

    In response to sidelock

One idea,I would throw in is the word scrimshaw referees to whales teeth. Well we went on to apply it to horns today, but it reflects an art work of sailors.
Why bring up this bit of trivia?
Well I’m thinking here of life at sea. You work the ship or your the watch below. What do you do for days, weeks ,months, at sea to relax? Scrimshaw, macro may, embroidery ship models made of old bones, snuff boxes and the like carved from dried junk was the boys play ground.
Evenings and cold winter days spent with just doing daily chores draw the hands to something. Trenails whittled, spoons or noggins made and maybe a bit of primitive art on a horn, while mama or the misses read from the Bible or prilgrams progress.
I look at some of the white mans bead work on clothing in the 1870s, or moose hair or quill work on whites clothing that was often in floral patterns while Indians work was geometric. For sure Indian ladies learned to make stuff white people would buy, but I wonder how much was done in winter camp.
Most of us make stuff to get a taste of the bygone life, but we do it because we enjoy the work. I bet a lot of horns were done in the same fasion. A knife, lamp black and pleasant conversation passing a winters eve.

 
Black Hand 
Cannon
Posts: 6475
11-14-17 10:46 PM - Post#1651806    

    In response to Elnathan

  • Elnathan Said:
Hard to find roundable horns these days.


Please explain.


 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 6069
11-15-17 12:44 AM - Post#1651815    

    In response to Loyalist Dave

Dave,

The following links show many documented 18th century powder horns that were white or white with brown/black tips.

https://www.scribd.com/document/288282719/Arms-Accoutrements...

https://www.scribd.com/document/288283152/Arms-Accoutrements...

https://www.scribd.com/document/288283500/Arms-Accoutrements...

"Red" Devon Cattle did produce white/whitish horns, but so did the early Spanish Breeds of cattle where much of the leather and most raw powder horns came from in the 18th century from what is now Texas, Mexico, and other countries further South.

This does not mean that ONLY white/whitish color horns were used, but it does show there were enough available for those who preferred them.

Since white/whitish horns seem to have been popular throughout the 18th century and into the early 19th century for powder horns, no doubt the best horns to meet this demand were selected and kept back for powder horn use.

Gus

 
BrownBear 
Cannon
Posts: 13690
BrownBear
11-15-17 04:14 AM - Post#1651819    

    In response to Artificer

  • Artificer Said:

"Red" Devon Cattle did produce white/whitish horns, but so did the early Spanish Breeds of cattle where much of the leather and most raw powder horns came from in the 18th century from what is now Texas, Mexico, and other countries further South.




I've never been able to track the genealogy on them, but the Russians left behind a herd of cattle on Chirikof Island in the Kodiak Archipelago when the US took over back in 1864, as I recall the date. The herd survives to this day as some pretty wild and crotchety feral stock.

Cattle breeders are real interested in them for their gene pool, and in fact one local rancher put together the wranglers and boats to gather a bunch and transport them back to his place on Kodiak.

Great animals for the area and climate, well adapted over the years for local conditions. I've spent quite a bit of time around them.

Horns are nicely shaped and white as snow. Got my order in for some next time he slaughters.
"Lay in the weeds and wait, and when you get your chance to say something, say something good."
Merle Haggard


 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 6069
11-15-17 07:03 AM - Post#1651830    

    In response to BrownBear

"Got my order in for some next time he slaughters."

That brought back some old memories when I accompanied the butcher from the hamburger sandwich shop I worked at, to the slaughter house so he could pick out the sides of beef. I probably could have gotten all the really raw horns I wanted for free, but I was not yet into muzzle loading. DARN, what a missed opportunity!

Gus

 
Elnathan 
50 Cal.
Posts: 1041
11-15-17 07:17 AM - Post#1651835    

    In response to Black Hand

  • Black Hand Said:
  • Elnathan Said:
Hard to find roundable horns these days.


Please explain.




Horns don't come round. Some horns can be rounded, depending on how far out out of true they are, how thick the horn gets, how far down the horn the not-round shape goes, etc. Many can't.

Seems like the majority of horns over at Powderhorns and More are listed as non-roundable, and since I've found out through experience that when he lists a horn as non-roundable it really is non-roundable, I conclude that it is getting harder to find good horns.

Seems like it wasn't that way a decade or two back - I got a horn that wasn't roundable until recently, so I was inclined to assume that he was being overcautious. He wasn't...

 
crockett 
Cannon
Posts: 6184
11-16-17 09:22 AM - Post#1651878    

    In response to Sooter76

On the original question- the surviving horns were likely the ones bought by farmers or towns people and hung over the fireplace and never used, so they are probably over represented. They may have been the better quality horns.
There is a lot of conjecture on this issue.
As I understand it....
1. Most horns were made by horners in that business, not made at home. They scraped down the outside of the horn using glass and this glass created sort of a striated finish. You can actually polish horn to a high gloss which then makes the horn look like cheap plastic. The base plugs were turned on a lathe so the horn had to be changed from oval to round, usually by a quick dip in hot oil. It's just a guess but I personally feel most horns were plain without further decoration.
It addition to the surviving horns, there are period paintings, I think most show a plain horn.

 
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