The Stamp and Coin Place Blog: connecting the past and present of stamp and coin collecting, and looking to the future.

Engraved Powder Horns: Not Your Average Accessories

Old Scrimshaw Powder Horn inscribed "Navy Old Ironsides"

Old Scrimshaw Powder Horn inscribed “Navy Old Ironsides”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, soldiers on the battlefield carried cow, ox or buffalo horns hollowed out to store gunpowder. Soldiers slung the horns over their shoulders to carry them.

Powder horns were important safety devices. They kept the powder separated from the gun; if any spark sitting in the barrel after a shot reached a cache of gunpowder, an explosion would be likely, so powder horns kept the gun powder safe and secure.

But a special, personal touch was what made these powder horns so special. This was how soldiers carried little pieces of home with them. During spare time between battles, soldiers carved into the horns to make them personalized pieces of art. They were like the ultimate battlefield accessories.

Greater artistic skill, of course, meant more ornate and aesthetically pleasing powder horns; but a soldier didn’t need huge talent to engrave the horn with personal images and letters. Some would simply carve in their initials or the place and date of battles they participated in.

1280px-Royal_navy_power_horn

A royal navy powder horn, CC 3.0 via user geni

When people carved maps into the horns, the horns gained a whole new level of practicality. As soldiers traveled through American wilderness, much of it previously uncharted, they carved out their walking paths of the areas, creating firsthand records of their routes.

Soldiers’ carving abilities were also limited by their carving tools. Pocket knives could only do so much, and made rather crude engravings. The best engravings came from actual engravers’ tools.

Some horns were soaked in yellow or orange dye to give them a pleasant amber color. Then brown paint was rubbed into the carvings to make them stand out more.

For collectors and history enthusiasts, powder horns make amazing items to own. Even the less detailed horns are slices of history.

Just beware when purchasing a powder horn: there are fakes out there. Check with an expert to make sure the horn is legitimate.

If you know your stuff and purchase with care, powder horns are valuable collectors’ items. Some are worth thousands of dollars! One bidding war elevated the price of a map horn to $57,500, much higher than the estimated worth of the horn.

Just bid carefully and keep your eye on the prize, and you’ll have a good quality powder horn in your possession.

You can buy the horn in the top featured picture for significantly less than thousands of dollars — just click here.

What would you carve on a powder horn? Let us know in the comments!

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