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Highland Scottish Powder Horn Dated 1684

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Price: £3,250

Ref: 19.14

Item Description

A well formed and engraved, late 17th century Highland Scottish powder horn dated 1684.

The horn is made from the pointed end of a cow horn which has been heat-flattened and pressed into shape. The outer side is profusely decorated with panels of typical Celtic / Gaelic interlace, scrollwork and fans within a lined border. The inner side is decorated with three bands of cusped ornamentation with the spaces between left vacant.

The wooden base plug is original and secured front and back by small wooden pegs tapped through the horn base. The base plug is fixed – powder was poured into and out of the horn nozzle which is strengthened with a curled strip of metal. Below this on the top concave side of the horn a raised ribbed shoulder has been formed through which a suspension loop has been bored – now plugged. The second suspension loop was originally fixed towards to the  top of the base plug and seems to have been forcefully torn out at some time during the working life of the horn causing a small split to the upper side.

On the front surface of the horn a small patch has flaked off. This occurred during the the original heat-assisted moulding of the horn shape rather than more recently. The thrifty horner that made this example engraved the base of the crater left by the flaked patch to blend it in with the rest of the horn. Such initiative, which makes the best of flaws in materials, is quite common on other weapons and artefacts of  Scottish “Highland” manufacture.

One horizontal panel near the nozzle is applied with the initials “PDI” followed by the date 1684. Highland horns of this nature sometimes had a long life given the various later owner inscriptions and dates applied to other vacant spaces on surviving horns. To the back of this horn, in cruder style, a lightly inscribed and unfinished floral roundel has been applied to one of the originally vacant panels, plus the more deeply inscribed name of  “C Duncan”, presumably a later owner of the horn, with the date 1819.

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 the 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.

The surviving dated horns indicate that the peak period of the best quality manufacture was from the 1670s to the 1690s. This horn corresponds to “Type A”, in Whitelaw’s classification system, which are “Horns with their surface divided up by cross bands of interlace and fan ornament, with one or two square or oblong panels”.

The overall length measured from extremity to extremity is 9 inches (23 cm). The base is just over 3.5 inches (9.25 cm) across.

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