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Powder Horn Features Glassblower

All About Glass

Figure 1In 2001, The Corning Museum of Glass acquired an object of folk art: a powder horn engraved with the figure of a glassblower [2001.7.4] (Fig. I).

Powder horns were necessary accouterments for soldiers and hunters in the 18th century. Many are known from the French and Indian War (1755-1763) and the American Revolution (1775-1784). These examples are decorated with elaborate maps and with scenes showing soldiers and battles. They were often created by semiprofessional engravers who found this a profitable sideline. The development of cartridges containing gunpowder in the 19th century made powder horns less of a necessity, and they were produced in much smaller numbers.

The Museum's powder horn, which shows a furnace and a glassblower (Figs. 2 and 3), appears to be unique. He has a glassmaker's chair and tools, and he seems to be fashioning a wine bottle or decanter. On the reverse of the horn is a framed inscription, "D.S. 1830." These were probably the initials of the owner, who we may assume was a glassblower as well as a hunter, and the date the object was made for him. "D.S." may also have been the carver, but there is no way to be certain. The glass furnace, a beehive-shaped masonry structure, is probably copied from a print, but it is too generic to identify the source. It has a flat awning or roof, which shelters the furnace and the glassblower.

Fig. 2: Detail of powder horn showing the furnace.
Fig. 3: Detail of powder horn showing figure of the glassblower.

Another interesting feature of this powder horn is the group of animals that chase one another around the piece. The scene includes a cow, a rooster, a squirrel, a bird, and a dog pursuing a rabbit. Since the powder horn was probably for a gun that was used for hunting, the rabbit and squirrel probably refer to that activity. However, the presence of the cow is a mystery. The owner of the powder horn may also have owned a cow and a rooster; certainly many 19th-century households had both of those animals.

Unfortunately, there is no way to tell where or for whom the powder horn was made. It probably originated in a small town in Massachusetts, New York, or Pennsylvania, since these states produced most of the 18th-century examples. But there were several towns with glasshouses in these three states, and so it is impossible to be more specific regarding the provenance of the piece. Mount Vernon was the site of the only glasshouse in upstate New York that made bottles in 1830. Another possible source is the Dyottville Glass Works in Philadelphia.

This article was published in the Journal of Glass Studies, Vol. 44 (2002), 200–201.

Published on April 2, 2013