(Fr-corne; Ger-Horn; Nor-horn; Rus-рог)

A. Horn.  Drinking horn (along outside curve - 47.5 cm) fashioned from horn from India (other wise unidentified) by John Pettigrew (The Hornmaster) in Queensland, Australia.  John scrapes, sands and polishes these horns (i.e., there is no external coating);  lines them with beeswax; and etches the brass band with a Celtic knot-work design     (© photo by Jenny Tribe, from http://www.esford.com)     
DESCRIPTION:  In his rather comprehensive book about diverse uses of bone, antler, ivory and horn, MacGregor (1985, p.20) notes that  "The horns carried by certain mammals, such as cattle, sheep, goats and antelopes, consist of a non-deciduous cuticle composed of keratin and laid down in the form of a sheath surrounding a bony horn-core."  Individual horns and the bony core typically decrease in circumference from the animals' heads to their tip ends.  The keratin sheaths, which are laminated, merge to constitute all of most horns for their last few centimeters to their tip ends;  these ends consist of roughly concentrically laminated, virtually solid keratin (see Figure D).  Rhinoceros horns differ:  "They are solid and are composed of an aggregation of thousands of incredibly strong, tightly packed, compressed fibres [of keratin] ... and do not have a bony core." (Wright, 2006)
    Colors - off-white, yellowish, tan, brownish, gray, nearly black -- with the horns of some animals exhibiting combinations of two or more colors or hues of the same color.
    H.     ~2½  <<  an example of plate-like keratin-rich material.
    S.G.  ~1.29  <<  an example of plate-like keratin-rich material;  BUT, Webster (1975) gives 1.70 -1.85 for European spotted deer (Cervus axis, Erxleben, 1777).
    Light transmission - semitransparent to opaque
    Luster - dull, porcelaneous, pearly to subvitreous
    Breakage - irregular, commonly splintery, though sectile
    MiscellaneousThermoplastic;  grease-repellent; and transverse sections of horns exhibit a more-or-less concentric lamination and some horns exhibit a ridging -- i.e., roughly parallel along their lengths.  -- The concentric laminations, which can usually be seen macroscopically provide a good way to distinguish horn from antlers.

USES: Horns and parts of horns have been used from several animals – e.g., antelopes, buffalo (bison), cattle (cows, bulls, oxen and water buffalo [=carabao]), goats, sheep and rhinoceros. 

Several items made from horn are described and illustrated by MacGregor (1985) as representing “the technology of skeletal materials since the Roman period.”  Included are amulets, beads, bracelets, buckles, combs, dice, fastening pins, gaming pieces (e.g., for chess), and boards with areas marked by horn inlay, hammer heads used by silversmiths, handles of knives and razors, horns (blast, drinking and powder), scoops, spoons, strap ends (e.g., for belts), tuning pins for string instruments, styluses and tablets for writing.  Horn has also been used for snuff bottles and tops of snuff bottles made from other materials because of it's being virtually odorless. 

A tabulation given by Schaverien (2006, p.5) lists "the most common items made in horn ... [which] is by no means complete as it has been estimated horn has been used to produce over a hundred objects" according to "Techniques of making horn objects"  as follows:
                         "No pressing[:] The natural form of horn
[:] Drinking horns[,] Hunting horns[,] Babies' bottles[,] Inkhorns[,] Powder horns[,]  Cupping horns[,] Potters' horns[,] Drenching, Grease amd Carters' horns [and] Snuff mulls
                         "First pressing
[:] Horn 'plates'[:] Knife handles[,] Spoons[,] Combs[,] Spectacles [and] Fan sticks
                        "First pressing[:] Translucent horn 'leaves'[:] Horn-books[,] Lantern lights [and] Window panes
                         "Second pressing
[:] Moulding horn in dies[:] Cutlery scales[,] Boxes[,] Buttons [and] Jewellery[.]"
She describes and illustrates
examples of many of the items on this list (several with colored photographs) and also other items that consist wholly or or in part of horn.  A few of these are noteworthy additions to those mentioned in the preceding paragraph:  armour, bobbins, books (see REMARKS), bowls, bows (as in bows and arrows), cutlery, fans, fishing lures, flasks, handles for tools (as well as cutlery, knives, etc.), helmets, medicine horns, pounce pots, quaiches, seed sowers, shoehorns, weatpons and whistles.
Indeed, today, one can purchase such diverse things as bracelets, earrings, necklaces and body piercing jewelry made wholly of or featuring horn;  buttons, boxes with horn veneer or decorated with horn inlay, carvings (especially noteworthy are those crafted by Thai from water buffalo horn), cases for diverse things (Figure B) and combs (said to produce no static electricity);  canes with horn grips, both pocket knives and hunting knives with horn handles and door knobs (both plain and carved)horns for blowing (e.g., to start “the hunt”), drinking (Figure A) or for gun powder (Figure C) used in demonstrations of antique shoulder weapons at historical forts, and even for holding liquor;  antique rifle and side-arm stocks that are highly decorated with horn inlay (see Ritchie, 1950, p.105-112);  and stag horns, to attach to walls for use as hat racks.  --  Several of these things have been shaped, carved or engraved and are parts of  jewelry or decorative pieces that include other materials such as bone, cloth, gemstones, leather, metals, rope or a combination of two or more of these materials.   And, some decorative horn objects are adorned by gold, silver, bronze and/or precious gems.
      In addition, some of the replicas of the small boxes, referred to as Mughal boxes, are covered wholly or in part by horn  bone.  These boxes are so-named because they are fashioned to resemble, at least shape-wise, the boxes, used to store jewelry during he Mughal Dynasty (1526-1756) of India. 

B. Horn case (height - 9.8 cm) for decorated elephant ivory seal and wax. Presented to the compiler by a former student, Chen Ping-Fan. (© photo by Dick Dietrich)

C. Horn.  Antique Flat Powder Horn (along outside curve -15.5 cm) -- This 18th century flat priming horn from New Jersey has a nicely carved "fish mouth" spout end, variegated colors and a flat base plug with the initials JLH carved into the wood.  (© photo by Wayne Zurl, www.wayneZurl.com)     

A caution:  Be sure to see the actual item or a definitive photograph of the item you think you want because several pieces of jewelry advertised as horn are metal replicas of musical instrument horns.

OCCURRENCES & NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES:   Wherever horn-bearing animals can be legally hunted or dehorned.  Recall the fact that antlers are not horn;  they are bone and dealt with under that entry.   So far as occurrence, an important difference between horn and bone is that horns are not shed like antlers.   Consequently, horns are not available without being removed from the animal, be it alive or dead.  In any case, it usually is considered a waste material.
REMARKS: Derivation of the designation horn as applied to animal horns is diversely attributed by professional etymologists.  Neither summarizing the hypotheses nor giving my thoughts about the differences seems warranted here.  Etymologically interesting, however, is the fact that rhinoceros is from two Greek words ρινο and  κεραϛ , which mean nose and horn respectively. (O.E.D.)

Widely used procedures for preparing horn for different uses are described by Schaverien (2006).  So far as its use as thin lamellae, the first step involves separation of horn from its core, and then it is split and cut.  The end product desired dictates which additional processes are required.  Examples of these processes include one or more of the following:  Heating, pressing or even molding;  carving with metal tools or, for example, obsidian points;  engraving with a hot iron; and etching by coating it with wax, scratching a design into/through the wax, and using acid.  And, most items are stained and virtually all are smoothed and polished.    Horn is thermoplastic -- i.e., it can be shaped when heated and then retain the shape when cooled;  in fact, carefully controlled heating can also be used to [so-to-speak] weld small pieces together to make larger ones.  So far as the staining, horn can be dyed just about any color (see Figure D) -- but, the dye typically does not penetrate more than a few millimeters.  Whatever, nearly all horn takes a good polish (see Figure A);;

D. Horn.  Necklace with variously colored (dyed) horn "beads" (bluish one, height -3 cm);  enlarged image on right shows the roughly "concentric" lamination. The other "beads" are wood and tumbled shell.  (© photo by Dick Dietrich)

Care:  One should not try to wash anything made of horn with hot water -- if shaped for some function, it will tend to revert to its original shape.   Indeed, it has been reported "High humidities can ... encourage some insect pest damage.  ... materials, such as horn are vulnerable to attack from the larvae of clothes moth and carpet beetles. {But] Good housekeeping and general high standards of cleanliness will normally prevent this." (Child 2006)

Horns of aurochs (extinct wild oxen [Bos taurus Linnaeus, 1758 /Bos primigenius  Bojanus, 1827] – also called uruses and wisents – of northern Africa, the Middle East and Europe) were probably used for drinking horns during prehistoric times.  BUT, this is difficult to prove because horn other than rhinoceros horn disintegrates with age.  It has been documented, however, that  "Exceptionally thin and translucent plates, such as were used in the windows of lanterns (hence, probably, the Middle English form lanthorn), were produced by selecting suitably light horns, soaking them in water for about a month, and then delaminating or splitting them into two or more leaves before subjecting them to pressure ...  [The] translucency could be improved by smearing the horn plates with oil and warming them over a fire, or else by boiling them in three parts water to one part waste fat, before pressing them for half an hour and finally laying them in a dish of cold water...." (MacGregor, 1985, p.67).

"Rhino horn has a beautiful translucent color when carved, and from as far back as A.D. 618 the Chinese have made ornamental bowl cups and other carvings. One of the rhino horn’s more useful purposes was for ornamental drinking cups to detect poisons. It is thought that this may have been because many early poisons were strong alkaloids that may have reacted strongly with the keratin and gelatin in the rhino horn, thereby indicating the presence of poison." (Lewa ..., 2001)  Also,
"In Yemen, ... the handles of the most expensive daggers, called 'Djambiyas', are still made out of a carved rhino horn.  In contrast to the other materials used, such as water buffalo horn and plastic, rhino horn improves in luster with age." (ibid.)  In any case, "In 1987 the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned all trade in rhino horn. ... [But,] because of the strong belief in rhino horn in Chinese medicine, it has been very difficult to close the market. ... the Chinese government earned a record $700 million from exports of medicines in 1987. [and] Although China joined CITES in 1981, it has not been very interested in controlling its trade. [--] One of the sad consequences of this market fever is that priceless intricately carved rhino horn art objects from the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties are now being ground down into powder for medicine." (Prothero & Schoch , 2002, p.290;  see also Conniff, 2011.).  A relatively large, carved vessel that consists in part of carved rhino horn is  in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum (Zackowitz, 2012).   Two intricately carved Chinese cups that are carved rhinoceros horns , "thought to be from the Ming or qing Dynasties  ... are housed in the Peabody Museum {Yale University)" -- see photograph  by Morosse, 2013.
Any conversation about horn could be extended by mentioning the cornucopia -- i.e., the horn of the goat that suckled Zeus and upon breaking off became overflowing with the fruits (etc.),  both real and imagined, of man's labor and desires -- the utopian "horn of plenty."  Furthermore, it to mention the Horn-book might be a good takeoff point for a discussion of education -- this is the appropriate designation for the frequently seen paper (or parchment, embroidery, etc.) upon which the alphabet, the Lord's Prayer and, in some cases the numbers (0 through 9) occur;  this designation is apparently based on the fact that early versions, which date back to the mid-15th century, were attached to a wooden base and protected by a sheet of transparent horn.  And, if geographers or world travelers are present, one might mention the fact that the "Horn of Africa" -- i.e., the Somali Peninsula of East Africa, which so-to-speak juts into the Arabian Sea, was apparently so-named because its shape was seen to resemble that of a rhinoceros horn;  this might start all sorts of recollections of other mimetoliths, both large and small.

A rather special, in my opinion, powder horn is in the Sterling map collection at Yale University:  Apparently dating to the Revolutionary War period, it has a rough map of eastern upstate New York -- including such things as Hudson River (north of Albany), Lakes George and Champlain, and several forts  -- "incised, scrimshaw-style" on it (Lassila, 2007).  For those interested in the history of the use of horn, several interesting anecdotes and illustrations (black and white photographs), I recommend two references:   Ritchie (1975) and
MacGregor (1985).

SIMULANTS:  Not simulants per se, but noteworthy:  Some horn plaques represented as consisting of relatively valuable Sumatran rhinoceros horn have been found to consist of a thin layer of rhinoceros horn welded to some less valuable horn (Ritchie, 1950, p. 141).   And, "agate [has] emerged as a high-quality substitute (my underline) for rhino horn dagger handles, although agate handles are much more expensive." (Lewa ..., 2001)   True simulants follow:

Baleen - keratin plates that some whales (baleen whales) have instead of teeth.  The material has found use, chiefly on the basis of its being thermoplastic, for both functional and decorative items;  an example of the latter is its use as a veneer on boxes. Sometimes this material is represented correctly as baleen;  other times it is incorrectly called whalebone or misrepresented as horn. - [Distinguishing between baleen and horn usually requires state-of-the-art instruments and rather high-level expertise.].

***Faux horn -- material so designated, but not otherwise identified, has been use for such things as handles on safety razors and shaving brushes. -
[Close examination of the texture should suffice.]

Oliphant - horn-shaped carving made from the pointed end of an elephant tusk usually used as a powder horn but sometimes as a drinking horn. - [Appearance should suffice.].

***Plastics - Diverse plastics have been used for objects once made from horn. -- See information given for "***Plastics" under the SIMULANTS subheading in the TORTOISE SHELL entry.  In addition, plastics lack macroscopically visible texture whereas all horn has one or another texture that can be seen with the naked eye or with the aid of a 10x hand lens.

***Resins  plus ground (powdered) horn - this material has been molded and carved to use for, for example, handles of letter openers and magnifying glasses.  -
[Close examination of the texture should suffice.]

Wood - Some woods that resemble horn, especially rhinoceros horn, have been fashioned into pieces that are widely associated with horn. - [Close examination of the texture should suffice;  no carved wood I know of feels like any carved horn I have had in my hands, but this may be just a personal "feeling."]. 
REPLICAS:  Skulls, including horns, of buffalo, steer and other horn-bearing animals have been fashioned from diverse resins and marketed for use as decorative wall hangings, especially for hunting lodges and hunter's dens.  Other than these, two small silver rhinocerous pieces seem most interesting: The larger one is 2 1/8 inches long;  both have well defined features, including their horns;  their bodies are glossy black, reported to be the result of some burnishing process;  their heads, feet and tails are also glossy, but retain their natural silver hue.

| Top | Home |

R.V. Dietrich © 2015
Last update: 15 March 2013

web page created by Emmett Mason