Dating powder horns

Along both routes, horners, combmakers, and turners set up shops, large and small, to turn out powder horns and other objects for their own local markets and beyond. While large-scale production became the hallmark of the eastern counties of Pennsylvania, the southern highlands produced innumerable variations indicative of scattered workshops catering to smaller communities, as well as those passing through. Powder horns likely made in Philadelphia in the second half of the 18th century. While most horns of this type are entirely unmarked, the upper right horn is a rare dated example, made in 1761. Powder horns were also used for the priming of large naval guns, and in blasting operations; apparently sometimes the horn shape was merely a convenient form of funnel in such cases, and was open at both ends and not used as a container.In America, a number of period horns dating from the French and Indian wars throughout the American Revolution and beyond have been preserved in private and other collections.In mid-June 1758, George Washington, busy supplying his provincial troops for the upcoming expedition against Fort Duquesne, suggested to Col.Henry Bouquet that powder horns might be “ordered to be made at Philadelphia, & sent from thence.”[i] Less than a week later, Brigadier General John Forbes, in Philadelphia at the time, told Bouquet that he was sending 28 dozen powder horns to Carlisle to be “disposed of as you shall direct,” and would have another 20 dozen ready for shipment by the end of the week.[ii] As vessels laden with British goods occasionally carried powder horns to Philadelphia, it is not certain where Forbes’ horns were made, though Washington’s comments suggest that he thought local craftsmen capable of doing the work.

An important safety concern was that when reloading a muzzle-loading gun soon after a shot there might be small pieces of wadding burning in the muzzle, which would cause the new load of powder to ignite as a flash.The term may also be used for any personal container for gunpowder, the shape has to be long and curved for which powder flask is the strictly correct term.The wide mouth was used for refilling, while the powder was dispensed from the narrow point.Known as “screw-tips” among modern-day collectors, they feature intricately turned and threaded horn spouts and decorative bands, as well as bulbous wooden plugs turned from walnut or cherry.Seldom marked in any way, their relative chronology has been established by a handful of horns dating from the mid-1750s onward.

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