A Spectacular Collection of American Folk Art Powder Horns

Alex Cooper Auctioneers will conduct another of its regularly scheduled Art & Antiques Auctions on April 4 and 6, 2024. In addition to the usual offerings of fine art, furniture, and decorations, the Saturday sale will include a collection of over 40 American folk art powder horns, created between the middle 18th and middle 19th century, comprising Lots 1500-1542.


In the days when flintlocks were the standard of military firearms, soldiers carried gunpowder with them to prepare their weapons for firing, one shot at a time. A cow’s horn provided a perfect container for gunpowder, which could be quite dangerous or useless if not stored properly. Horns were light, waterproof, and shockproof. With an opening bored at the tip for a spout, and the base closed with a carefully fitted wooden plate, a soldier could mount the horn on a sling and carry it at just the right height to assist in loading the gun. Moreover, horns could be carved or engraved with names, inscriptions, and decorative designs to suit the tastes of their owners.

During the French & Indian War (1754-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) many American colonial soldiers carried such decorated horns. Sometimes they designed them themselves, creating highly personal expressions. Talented individuals in some of the camps and forts also seem to have accepted jobs from their fellow soldiers. Some horns can be attributed to specific carvers and “schools.” In either case, these horns are a vivid link to our ancestors who made and used them. Frequently, they are engraved with names, diagrams, meaningful objects, and a wide range of traditional decorative motifs which reflect the folk-art traditions of their creators.


Lot 1500, American Powder Horn, Lake George School, 1758

Lot 1500 is a horn that belonged to Jonathan Husted of New Canaan Ct. It was carved by one of the Lake George carvers, as identified by William Guthman, in 1758. In addition to the owner’s name, there are vivid little images of a deer hunt in a forest, a horse at a hitching post, a silver tea service, and a large flowering plant.


Lot 1501, American Engraved Powder Horn, New Hampshire, 1757

Lot 1501 is a horn inscribed with the name, Samuel Blackman, serving at Fort No. 4 (Charles Town, N.H.) in June, 1757. It is engraved all around with buildings, boats, and flowering plants.


Lot 1507, American Engraved Powder Horn, Battle Scene, 1762

Lot 1507 belonged to John Sprague, Jr., and is dated 1762. It is engraved with a rhyme, a view of a city (possibly Quebec), and unusual scenes of soldiers in battle.


Lot 1516, Powder Horn, Washington's Crossing Relic, 1776

Lot 1516 belonged to Jonathan Cruttenden, dated in Pennsylvania, 1776. He is documented as one of the soldiers who crossed the Delaware River with Washington on Christmas night, 1776, to surprise and capture the Hessian garrison at Trenton, and likely carried this horn during the raid.


Lot 1517, American Engraved Powder Horn, New York, 1780

Lot 1517 belonged to Jacob Yelverton, an artilleryman posted near Albany, NY, in 1780. This is a fine large horn engraved with a view of a British encampment and a schematic map of the Hudson River valley with labelled landmarks.

The collection for sale was gathered primarily in the 1980s and ‘90s. About 30 of them were purchased from William Guthman, a well-known Connecticut antique dealer, who was the acknowledged expert in the field. Our collector was a Maryland resident who had a deep appreciation for American history and material culture. His favorite objects were ones such as these, which deeply reflect their historical origins and the people who used them. Most of the horns have information related to his ongoing research and learning about them. Alex Cooper has previously sold his holdings of Civil War and Revolutionary War artifacts.

Alex Cooper is always interested in selling fine and rare Americana, such as this collection. Please feel free to reach out to Richard Hall or other members of our professional staff for a consultation.


Richard Hall
Specialist of Rare Books & Ephemera