On Display: “Powder Horns: An Early American Art Form”

Powder Horns:
An Early American Art Form
From the HHS Permanent Collection
DuBois Fort Visitor Center, 81 Huguenot Street
August 9 – September 25, 2016

Throughout the early wars in America, powder horns were a close companion to colonial weapons such as the musket, fowler, flintlock rifle, and pistol. Powder horns were portable containers used primarily for gunpowder and made out of large animal horns, commonly that of cows. If made correctly, the tool was airtight, waterproof, and spark-proof, with caps on both ends removed to funnel powder into the gun. The powder horn was introduced to America from Europe, where they were developed alongside gunpowder. Horns were easily and cheaply obtained.

1985223001-5Although they served a vital utilitarian purpose on the battlefield, powder horns also functioned as unique works of art. European powder horns were unembellished, while American horns were engraved with images, regimental mottos, references to military campaigns, or maps.  The technique became known as scrimshaw; a form of scrollwork, engraving, and carving done in bone or ivory. While some decorated powder horns were inscribed by the owner, some were made by professional engravers for sale. Many times, horns decorated by professionals had delicate lines and featured a cartouche, a carved ornamental table in which the owner would inscribe their name or initials.

Powder Horns: An Early American Art Form features seven powder horns from the HHS Permanent Collection dating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Both owner and professionally-made examples of scrimshaw  are featured, as well as horns with provenance to descendants of Huguenot Street patentees.

This exhibit was researched and prepared by HHS Curatorial Department interns Ciara Bohan, Madison Petrella, and Meredith Salton.

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