Author Topic: Old horn question  (Read 1415 times)

Offline Shreckmeister

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Old horn question
« on: September 30, 2021, 02:50:59 PM »
Can someone tell me why all of the highly collectible powder horns from the 18th century seem to have the same tan coloration But all of the 19th century horns that I find are much darker? Weíre collectors at one time cleaning these old hornĎs with some thing that resulted in that tan color?  For example, most of the horns in yesterdayís Morphy auction had this tan coloration. My other question is what is some color applied to the etching In these horns to make it stand out more? 19th century original horns I find donít have that black etching. Iíve been wondering this for a number of years
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Offline Daniel Coats

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2021, 03:20:43 PM »
I'm wondering how much of it is the type of cattle the horn came from?
« Last Edit: September 30, 2021, 03:26:56 PM by Daniel Coats »
Dan

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Offline rich pierce

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2021, 04:57:56 PM »
Iím always impressed with the dark and clear inking on historic horns from the 1700s.
Andover, Vermont

Offline Marcruger

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2021, 06:36:24 PM »
I think some horns got a shellac treatment, and that darkens over time. 

I am also thinking about how rifles became simpler and more "production line" in the 1800's.  I am wondering if there was less need for beautiful light horns that show engraving? 

Just thinking out loud.   God Bless,  Marc

Offline jdm

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2021, 08:44:14 PM »
I remember reading some where that the dark lines were made by combining several ingredients.Soot from  the bottom of camp cookware ,gunpowder and water were part of the mix. then rubbed on the horn and wiped off leaving the black in the groves. The light yellow color was obtained by mixing different plants together .    Now don't take all this for true because I wasn't there.

 I have noticed that the horns with the nice color and dark lines are usually pretty nice horns. Perhaps these were made by horners who new the mysteries of the trade.The other carved  ones we see are from the owner who just wants to individualize his horn.Also the horns in that last auction were mostly high end  decorative and or historic.The darker horns are not  as attractive.  Again just a thought cause I really don't know!
« Last Edit: October 01, 2021, 01:57:02 AM by jdm »
JIM

Offline Cory Joe Stewart

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2021, 06:53:05 PM »
In my research the yellow color obtained on older horns, may not be from age but might very well have been something applied back in the day.  As you noted you do not see that color as much on horns from the 19th century.  How they achieved that tan color I do not know.  There a variety of stains and dyes.  There was a historic manual on coloring bone and horn that I have laying around somewhere, most methods are pretty toxic. 

Cory Joe

Offline Hungry Horse

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2021, 07:24:58 PM »
Old horns built by a true Horners  were treated to keep bugs from eating the horn up. Iím not sure what the treatment was, but whatever it was sure worked. My grandad said horns were treated with tobacco juice, or smoke. I have no doubt a strong application of either of these things would deter most bugs.
 The dark filler used to accentuate the cut lines of scrimshaw was often filled with India ink, and just like old letters, eventually the ink changed color from black to brown.

  Hungry Horse

Offline Tanselman

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2021, 11:39:39 PM »
Sometimes I think modern collectors over-think this type of question, and look for exotic answers instead of the simplest answer that is probably closest to the truth. I have never seen any old document describing how carving on horns was colored/darkened, yet many collectors recall reading about it. I've read modern articles on how horn carving was darkened, but those articles generally boil down to someone's opinion again, with authors who have handled more horns having stronger opinions... until it almost sounds like an historic fact despite still being opinion. Modern horners who antique their work down to look like old, original horns use stains, acids, etc. to yellow the surfaces, and after a while I think many begin to believe the old timers must have done the same thing to get the mellow old yellow surfaces... forgetting what time and handling oils can do to a surface.

I've seen several good Tansel horns, with mellow surfaces, where an inexperienced new owner has washed the surface with "just warm water" and suddenly the surface begins to look too light, too clean, too new. So was it originally stained to get the mellow color, or was it really a build-up of handling oils and dirt over many years, with the long period of time assisting the aging/oxidizing/darkening process?

There may be a difference between horns that were more a memento type horn, as many early F&I and Rev War horns were, versus later horns such as Tansel horns that were often working horns, carried for years and well-worn on the back side. Horns that stayed on the mantle  for most of their lives would remain lighter than those carried in the field for years and probably oiled/greased down at times along with the companion rifle to help waterproof them. Oils oxidize over time, pick up more dirt, and naturally darken. while cleaner surfaces still oxidize and yellow but at a slower rate.

If many of the great F&I era horns were actually carved at the forts during idle periods by a fellow soldier [usually assumed to be John Bush], would the carver bring along "dangerous" chemicals? I doubt it. I'd guess he probably brought a small blade for carving that he was comfortable using, and the rest was all local "stuff." While Tansel horns don't always equate to the earlier horns, the tradition was undoubtedly passed on through conversations and passed-down information, and probably didn't vary too much from the carving of earlier horns. I have no documentation of what the Tansels used to darken their carving, but I would bet it was the simplest permanent black material they could find easily. Lamp black has been suggested and may have been used, rubbed into fresh carving with a damp thumb. I personally believe they used the fine dust from gun powder, also with carbon in it similar to lamp black for a permanent black filler. My reason for believing this is based on several early KY era Tansel horns I have with multiple "bug bites" in them. I have noticed the bugs, or moth larva, will eat right up to the edge of the carving, then stop, as if the coloration in the carving had something in it that the larva could not tolerate. I believe that "intolerable" material was the sulfur in the gun powder that still remained with the black color, i.e., gun powder dust, in the carving cuts, sealed into the horn by years of handling oils and perhaps waterproofing oils or even wax rubbed on the horn's surface.

If there are documented articles out there with period references to how these great old horns were colored, and perhaps surface stained, please post where they can be found and read, because I would greatly appreciate reading them, as I continue to collect and study Tansel powder horns.

Shelby Gallien
« Last Edit: October 13, 2021, 05:37:52 AM by Tanselman »

Offline Tim Crosby

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2021, 12:00:54 AM »

 If many of the great F&I era horns were actually carved at the forts during idle periods by a fellow soldier [usually assumed to be John Bush]


  Good read. I got a laugh out of "Bush" reference.

    Timm

Offline Shreckmeister

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2021, 12:55:10 AM »
Shelby. I am suggesting they have been lightened versus darkened. Iím thinking they should be much darker based on age and handling.
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

Offline Tanselman

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2021, 06:38:20 AM »
I think used vs. memento was a major factor. On the Midwest horns I study, there are perhaps 12 to 15 known Mercer County [Ohio] heavily carved horns known, almost all Masonic related. I have not seen any significant bag wear on any of the Mercer County horns I have handled, undoubtedly due to being more of a memento or souvenir type horn probably recognizing a significant achievement or event in the Masonic life of the owner. These were also somewhat later horns when there was little need or use for a powder horn. Mercer Co. horns have all generally survived in very clean, light colored condition. I believe their lighter surfaces are a direct result of not being handled much so their exposure to skin/hand dirt and oils was greatly reduced, they were not being exposed to the elements and dirty environment, and were not being oiled or waxed since they were barely, if at all, used and did not need waterproofing. Of course, those horns followed the Tansel horns with most dating to about 1845 to 1855, so they are slightly younger, but still old enough to discolor and darken if actually used in the field.

And then, maybe it's just as simple as great early horns being recognized in their day as important family "records" and treated as such, with periodic cleaning to keep them looking good and honoring the family's traditions and military accomplishments, particularly in better English families where firearms were kept in polished, like new condition.

Shelby Gallien
« Last Edit: October 02, 2021, 06:45:14 AM by Tanselman »

Offline mr. no gold

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2021, 08:25:08 AM »
I was present when the late Bill Guthman, famous horn collector and scholar, and author, stated that he believed that many of the early fort. service and battle horns may have been carved sometime after the end of the Rev War as proof military service, when such proof was requested in the pensioning process. Bill said that many veterans did not have paperwork nor the records to make their case, a function that a horn could fill. The horn served as a mnemonic device and was accepted by the government. He also commented that many horns may have been made at the time of the 1876 Centennial as celebratory mementos. Not exactly Germaine to the subject here, but close. What do we make of Bill's ideas? I for one am not sure.
Dick

Offline Tim Crosby

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #12 on: October 02, 2021, 03:16:51 PM »
I was present when the late Bill Guthman, famous horn collector and scholar, and author, stated that he believed that many of the early fort. service and battle horns may have been carved sometime after the end of the Rev War as proof military service, when such proof was requested in the pensioning process. Bill said that many veterans did not have paperwork nor the records to make their case, a function that a horn could fill. The horn served as a mnemonic device and was accepted by the government. He also commented that many horns may have been made at the time of the 1876 Centennial as celebratory mementos. Not exactly Germaine to the subject here, but close. What do we make of Bill's ideas? I for one am not sure.
Dick

  I would agree with the idea but people don't want to hear things like that.

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Offline jdm

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2021, 04:08:56 PM »
  Dick,  I would agree with Bill's theory up to a point and is true for some of these horns.  So many of these were made by professional carvers .So  did they do a lot of business  knocking these out after the war for guys that didn't have much money?

Shelby,  I understand the build up of dirt and coloring from oils off hands . Here's  the BUT  .  The coloring on most of these early horns is uniform  over the entire horn . To get that kind of coverage they would have to be rubbed all  over pretty good.  For an item that is just setting  on a mantel  ?  If it was do to  handling I think it would be more sporadic.   Just throwing out some old guy ideas!
JIM

Offline rich pierce

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2021, 05:13:21 PM »
A little horn from the late 1800s. Not sure if it was ever inked.














2 original large plain horns with a new one I made in between. The un-carved ones are often quite dark.




Andover, Vermont

Offline Dutch Blacky

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #15 on: October 16, 2021, 10:18:46 AM »
Can someone tell me why all of the highly collectible powder horns from the 18th century seem to have the same tan coloration But all of the 19th century horns that I find are much darker? s


A lot of good arguments have been discussed, and  I agree with it.
Maybe there might be another aspect (only speculation):
After 1820 industrially made metal powder flasks became cheap and popular. A powder horn can be made even cheaper, using a cow horn. So later horns might have been considered as a hunting accoutrement for poor people, and then not only uncolored horns were used. 
In addition, only a few breeds of cattle have naturally light-colored horns, for example the Simmenthaler cattle. Most cow horns are more or less dark.  So poor people might have been using easy availible a dark colored horn that was lying around somewhere anyway?
 



Offline G. Elsenbeck

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #16 on: October 16, 2021, 05:04:29 PM »
Great question and perfect time of the year.  For instance, walnuts starting to drop off the tree and is a perfect item for coloring your horn.  Simply take one that is green (important), take a nice slice off and with the now holding the walnut with the piece out of it, rub over your spare horn (at least a light colored one) and presto, instant yellow/gold color that will not rub off or get on your hands.
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Offline Arcturus

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #17 on: October 18, 2021, 11:52:27 PM »
I have seen many deer antlers that have turned yellow, gold, or yellowish tan over many decades of being mounted on a wall inside a room where tobacco and wood smoke was prevalent, and often wondered if some of our yellow centuries-old horns haven't been similarly affected.  These have been rarely touched or handled, and yet the smoky environment darkens them considerably from their lighter original hue.
Jerry

Offline Mad Monk

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #18 on: November 03, 2021, 02:41:25 AM »
Old horns built by a true Horners  were treated to keep bugs from eating the horn up. Iím not sure what the treatment was, but whatever it was sure worked. My grandad said horns were treated with tobacco juice, or smoke. I have no doubt a strong application of either of these things would deter most bugs.
 The dark filler used to accentuate the cut lines of scrimshaw was often filled with India ink, and just like old letters, eventually the ink changed color from black to brown.

  Hungry Horse

Regarding the India ink idea.  The common writing ink used prior to the invention of steel pen points during the Civil War consisted of a powder of tannic or gallic acid and an iron salt such as ferric sulfate.  Purchased as a packet with each in its own paper envelop.  Mixed with water in an ink well.  That batch was good for about two weeks before it became too thick and lumpy to use with a goose quill pen.  The change from black to brown would come with a bit of age.  This chemistry is seen in the nitrate of iron stain used on fancy grain wood items.  Also used to dye various fabrics.

When the "iron ink" was placed on the horn surface, in the cut grooves, it would chemically bond to the horn.  The iron ink chemically bonds to the sulfur ions in the protein that makes up the horn.  Same as it did when used as a fabric dye on protein based fibers such as wool or silk. 

Offline Mad Monk

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #19 on: November 03, 2021, 03:34:47 AM »
I have seen many deer antlers that have turned yellow, gold, or yellowish tan over many decades of being mounted on a wall inside a room where tobacco and wood smoke was prevalent, and often wondered if some of our yellow centuries-old horns haven't been similarly affected.  These have been rarely touched or handled, and yet the smoky environment darkens them considerably from their lighter original hue.

With horn that smokey environment would darken the horn if the smoke included and sulfur gases from heat sources such as coal.  Shortly after the Civil War the lineoleum companies moved away from using lead carbonate as a color in lineoleum because of sulfur gases in the home turning that lead carbonate cream color grey and dark.  That was the push to go to manganese in their oil dryer metal formulations.  I live two blocks from the old Reading Railroad main yard and repair shops.  When a child we had numerous long trains of coal cars being pulled by steam engines running night and day.  Window curtains got discolored quickly in the summer with open windows. Eventually washing them in strong soapy water no longer removed the stains from the steam engine smoke. The anthracite they were using is a high sulfur coal.  Until just after WWII all of the homes in this section of the city were heated with anthracite coal.  At that time the wife could not hang freshly laundered clothing out in the sun in the yard to dry.
That high sulfur hard coal did all sorts of ugly things to the inside of the coal furnace heater chimney.  With moisture or rain water the sulfuric acid it formed would quickly destroy the mortar between the bricks.   There were a umber of big buildings down town and large stores or apartments around the city that used decorative cooper over wood or copper gutters and downspouting.  The sulfur fumes quickly discolored that to a black color.  Away from the railroads the copper would turn a green color.  But add a lot of sulfur to the air from the burning coal it it quickly went from green to black.     
 

Offline Austin

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #20 on: November 03, 2021, 03:58:43 AM »
Please excuse my ignorance, but what is a Simmenthaler breed of cattle?

Offline AZshot

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #21 on: November 08, 2021, 03:33:00 AM »
I was present when the late Bill Guthman, famous horn collector and scholar, and author, stated that he believed that many of the early fort. service and battle horns may have been carved sometime after the end of the Rev War as proof military service, when such proof was requested in the pensioning process. Bill said that many veterans did not have paperwork nor the records to make their case, a function that a horn could fill. The horn served as a mnemonic device and was accepted by the government. He also commented that many horns may have been made at the time of the 1876 Centennial as celebratory mementos. Not exactly Germaine to the subject here, but close. What do we make of Bill's ideas? I for one am not sure.
Dick



  I would agree with the idea but people don't want to hear things like that.

   Tim C.

That sounds logical.  It reminds me of the "trench art" at the end of WWI, where French would make brass howetzer shells into planters, and put "Verdun" and "1918" on them....for 2-5 years after the war to sell to anyone walking by!  These items were not made sitting in a trench under heavy gunfire....to me.

Offline Dobyns

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #22 on: November 09, 2021, 03:39:19 PM »

Offline Dutch Blacky

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Re: Old horn question
« Reply #23 on: November 09, 2021, 09:18:53 PM »
Most of the cattle in Europe get the horn removed when they are calfs because od securtity aspects. So it ist not easy to get a cow horn from a butcher or a farmer.