Author Topic: New Book - The Art of the English Trade Gun in North America by Nathan E. Bender  (Read 3377 times)

Offline Dennis Glazener

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The Art of the English Trade Gun in North America

Nathan E. Bender, The Art of the English Trade Gun in North America. Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland and Company, 2018.  171 pp., black and white photos, bibliography; paperback with color cover illustrating a T. Hollis trade musket.   $45.00

This book seeks to understand the artistic patterns that embellished “Indian trade muskets” produced in England during the North American fur trade era. The basic premise is that Old World gun makers and their agents saw the New World through the lens of Old World Greek and Roman mythology and art traditions and decorated the trade muskets from that perspective.
The book also looks at how such designs may have been interpreted by the Native American users of these guns that were purchased, traded for, or gifted on the frontier.
The author, a former archivist at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and archivist/professor at several other academic institutions, meticulously decodes the designs utilizing an array of sources listed in the extensive bibliography. 
The designs the author  treats include the dragon side plates of standard grade English trade muskets and the hunting horn and hogshead patterns on the so-called “chief’s muskets.”  There are also explanations of the Prince of Wales feathers motif, rose and rosette patterns, acorns, pomegranates, bows and arrows, and the “broad arrow carbuncle” design. 
The book features many illustrations of European sculpture and paintings to support the author’s arguments and includes hitherto unpublished photos of trade guns from the Bill Basco collection. 
As for the Greco-Roman mythology, the author discusses in great detail how the myth of the huntress Artemis/Diana figures in the design elements on the guns, including the silver thumb pieces on the chief’s muskets. The dragon/serpent side plate is discussed in the context of imagery of St. George and symbolism of the British Empire.
The author also offers new ways to understand the “allegorical context” of symbols of national liberty in the fledgling US and as well as Native American sensibilities of the era.
 In sum, there is much to reflect on in this in book, which aside from the artistic discussions  brings several new sources on  English trade guns into the literature and offers new ways of understanding designs that have often proved perplexing to students of these firearms that hold such a unique place in the history of North America.  – Mark Bender

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