Once a critical tool on frontiers and battlefields, the powder horn has become an informative
resource for early military and civilian history, particularly that of North America. Aside of
details about genealogy and location, powder horns offer a glimpse of human hardship, beauty,
Early powder horns date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, making appearances in King
George’s War and the French and Indian Wars. Used to hold black gunpowder, the horns were
air and water tight, durable, and non-sparking, important criteria for soldiers of the time period.
Using a horn from a cow, buffalo, or ox, the piece was first boiled in water and scraped smooth.
Each end was then fitted with wooden plugs, and holes were drilled at the wide end in order to
insert a carry strap. Finally, the powder horn was engraved, some featuring a simple name and
date, others an elaborate scene or map. Although horns were often engraved by owners
themselves, some were fashioned by master carvers such as Jacob Gay and John Bush.
Powder horn values range widely depending on condition, type of carving, and market
conditions. A simple piece containing a name and date could be worth a few thousand dollars,
while intricate examples with historical engravings have been valued at $30,000 or more.
Powder flasks have the same utility as powder horns, but are instead made of wood,
ivory, or non-ferrous metal. Many were manufactured commercially in the 17th and 18th
centuries before the advent of self-contained gun cartridges
A powder horn once owned by Captain Abraham Perry during the French and Indian War
sold for $25,000 at a 2015 Freeman’s auction
Scrimshaw powder horns were highly detailed pieces made using chisels and awls. After
placing patterns on horns, carvers would cut, polish, and color them