Fine Antique Arms & Armour

Highland Scottish Powder Horn Dated 1677


Price: £1,575

Item Description:


A fine powder horn in original and complete condition, fashioned from the pointed end of a cow horn which has been heat-flattened and pressed into shape. It is of a more imposing size than usual and retains its original latticed inlaid pewter nozzle girdle and wooden base plug secured by three pegs either side. The outer side is profusely incised with decorative panels and bands of typical Celtic / Gaelic interlace, scrollwork and fans within lined borders, plus the date and the owner's initials "DF". The inner side is decorated with a single band of counter-facing crescents separated by parallel lines.


The base plug is fixed - powder was poured into and out of the horn nozzle which was originally sealed with a stopper. Adjacent to the plug on the outer concave side of the horn, an iron suspension loop has been applied. Typically, near the nozzle, a raised ribbed shoulder has been formed by filing away the horn surface either side through which a second suspension loop has been bored.


For further examples of Highland powder horns see "The Swords and the Sorrows", National Trust for Scotland, 1996, pages 73 to 75, and the accompanying article by Jackie Mann. Horns like this are unlikely to have been made in Lowland Scottish burghs. More likely, they were made by horners settled in the Highlands and around the fringes, near markets, and on established drove roads. The patterns present on these Highland horns are similar to other Celtic / Gaelic motifs which appear on targes, dirks and plaid brooches which are associated with "Highland" craft, manufacture and art.


An intriguing aspect to the horn is that the engraving on the front side is only three quarters completed. More usually the lateral long alternate bands of these horns start from the convex rim of the horn and narrow as they reach the concave edge, rather like the spokes of a wheel narrow and converge towards the hub. However, in this case, the panels, whilst good examples of this art of carving, have not been geometrically as well applied as in other examples, the last applied panel towards the nozzle being well out of line. The ungainly appearance achieved from this error seems to have caused the horner to abandon this piece, giving a more unique human connection with the face of this particular horner. Evidence of a more crude engraving by another hand fills the space that was left towards the nozzle. Many other examples of these horns show evidence of such human "flaws" in their making.


The surviving dated horns indicate that the peak period of the best quality manufacture was from the 1670s to the 1690s. In Whitelaw's classification system, this horn corresponds to those "Horns with their surface divided up by cross bands of interlace and fan ornament..." This one with the date of 1677 is one of the earliest known.


Overall the horn is in good condition apart from a small dent about mid-way along the convex edge of the most decorous side which appears to a flaw in the horn exacerbated by the original heat treatment in its formation rather than damage.


The overall length measured from extremity to extremity is 12.75 inches (32.3 cm). The base is just over 3.75 inches (just under 10 cm) across.


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