Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rifleman's powder horn measuring 14.5" overall depicting an early train

Recently the museum acquired by purchase a rare and unique object from the earliest days of American railroading. Presented here is a rifleman's gunpowder horn scrimshawed with an early depiction of a train. Scrimshawed powder horns used by the common man on the early American frontier are not that uncommon. Depictions of towns, ships, flowers and trees, figures, flags and other man made and natural elements are typical designs. While some horns were decorated by professional carvers, most were scrimshawed by amateur hands, like this one, using a simple knife or other sharp tool.

Close-up view of the scrimshawed train showing detail 

Detail of the carved locomotive and building
This horn displays a number of decorative elements including sailing ships, buildings,a fortress, and some floral designs but the preeminent feature is the locomotive, tender and 4 railroad cars. Running nearly the entire length of one side the train is bookended by a large archway and a small two story building with a flagpole. 

Early sailing ships carved on the opposite side of the horn
The unknown carver included a high level of detail including passengers in the cars, the engineer and fireman on the locomotives and the iron spokes in the wheels. The locomotive design is typically British and dates to the period 1830-40 which also dates the powder horn to that period.

When the English railway the Stockton and Darlington opened in 1825 and the B&O Railroad ran its first steam locomotive in 1830 a "railroad craze" began that would last nearly a decade. Following the early success of the B&O, when railroads were being built with great fervor we see locomotives and trains depicted on bottles, porcelain plates, in textiles, art works and in popular culture throughout. The earliest designs illustrated British type trains since those images were most readily available. Indeed railroad decorated works were being imported to the United States from England as well to feed the hungry souvenir market. 

A powder horn, however, was a very personal object. One used every day for hunting on the frontier and, of course, for protecting one's family in early America. Obviously the owner of this horn, most likely the carver too, got caught up in the railroad craze himself.

We are very pleased to have this in our world class collection and to be able to preserve this piece of early American railroading for future generations. We will, likely, never see another. Without your generous support this would not be possible.

Thank you,
Courtney B. Wilson
Executive Director

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