By Daniel B. O’Connell
Animal horn is an incredible material, and in our 18th century period I admire the buttons, knife and fork handles, cups, whistles, combs, and other items made out of this beautiful animal byproduct. Of all the items that can be made out of horn the item that stands out for me is the classic powder horn. Not only is the powder horn practical, keeping black powder dry and convenient for the shooter, it is very often an artful expression of the owner whether if be a surviving example of the Rev era or a modern copy or interpretation of an 18th century powder horn.
Primarily used by American Forces during the American Revolution surviving examples of varying shapes and designs can be viewed in George C. Neumann’s “Collector’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution”. In Collector’s Illustrated Neumann offers over 30 surviving examples of powder horns the majority of them etched or “scrimshawed” with the former owner’s individual designs and images. Having attempted my own amateur artwork on my own powder horn I’m amazed when I look at the minute detail on the original 18th century horns. To think of a poor fellow huddled in a camp or garrison with primitive tools and materials yet turning out first class designs on these horns is amazing. Even more so are the variety of shapes and carvings on the original horns, very creative and no two horns being alike.
Several years ago, actually near two decades ago, I bought a near completed powder horn kit; a cleaned and sanded horn, fitted with a turned wood butt or end plug as well as a spout opening and turned wood pin or spout plug. Over those twenty years I observed American as well as the odd Crown Forces that wore powder horns and decided to put that kit together. I’ll offer to the reader it wasn’t difficult once I put my mind to finishing the horn kit. The more difficult portion of the kit was designing and carving the scrimshaw and on completion of the kit I had a desire to turn out a more complicated or more authentic designed and crafted powder horn.
Studying Collector’s Illustrated I noticed the several more complicated designs and carved horns from our time period. I especially began to take notice of reenactors and other historic shooter’s own powder horns and wanted to produce a quality horn. Along came Scott and Cathy Sibley and their wonderful book: “Recreating the 18th Century Powder Horn” ISBN 0-9765797-0-7. In the Sibley’s book they give you everything you need to know to assemble a kit or a from-scratch powder horn. Tools and materials you need, how to choose a horn, the cutting, shaping. Making and fitting the several styles of butt plugs, shaping the neck, staining and scrimshaw methods on your horn.
Carrying a powder horn isn’t for every 18th century reenactor, however if your impression allows you to add this accoutrement to your impression, having an individualized powder horn adds to the persona you are trying to portray. Most flintlock shooters carry a powder horn but those of you shooters who carry a modern powder container might want to get more authentic by constructing a historically correct powder horn. There’s a boy like thrill attached to scratching your name followed by “his horn”.
The Sibleys offer antiquing techniques, adding patina as well as a splendid collection of photos of original powder horns and reproduction powder horns. There is even a section in their book on historic scrimshaw designs/patterns that can be applied to your own horn should you be light in creativity of your own. If you are looking for the practical in “How To” powder horn construction and design, Scot and Cathy Sibley’s book is the ultimate! Color photos of every single step in constructing powder horns are included in “Recreating the 18th Century Powder Horn”. I highly recommend the Sibleys book. D.O.