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Since well into ' BC', man has fashioned horn and bone into tools, household ware, jewellery and weapons.

As far back as 18000 BC man apparently busied himself carving ivory - presumably after he had chased, captured and eaten the host animal. After all that excitement a bit of carving was probably quite relaxing - after all, he wouldn't have had a TV to watch or papers to read!

Later on in the course of man's development he would use antlers as knives, arrow heads as well as pick axes and jewelers then, somewhere along the line, he discovered that, by heating horn from cattle and sheep, he could mould it and from there on in there was no looking back - well not much anyway!

It was also discovered that horn could be de-laminated and, having done that, the thin pieces were found to be clear-ish, at least clear enough to almost see through, so these were used to make the 'glass' for lanterns (or more properly 'lant-horns'. This thin horn was also used for filling in the holes in the sides of their houses - not exactly double glazing but better than cold air! In fact the invention of mass- production techniques for glass almost scuppered the horners business back in the 16th century- apparently some of the small panes of glass inside the Guildhall in London are still of original horn.

However, to go back the way a little it seems the Romans were used to trading horn and contemporary writings refer to horn drinking vessels being quite commonplace - a little later on we would have found horners making chalices for churches around the 9th century and, according to the booklet of the Worshipful Company of Horners, horns were used in medical matters including, interestingly enough, the administration of enemas. Heady stuff -eh?

z Certainly horn working has had its ups and downs over the centuries much like any other kind of business but, over the years, horners have made book pages , walking sticks, shoe lifts ( or more properly shoe horns), window panes, lantern panes, spoons, knife handles, sword and dagger handles, tobacco jars, hunting horns, powder horns, drinking horns, snuff mulls, ink wells, cupping horns (medical), bow ends for longbowmen as well as needlework tools, lacemaking tools, condiment holders and combs - to mention but a few items from their range.

Here in Scotland, much horn work was undertaken by itinerant travelling folk or 'tinkers', so called because they were tinsmiths primarily - they would travel from farm to farm and village to village often carrying their home on their backs or, if they were prosperous, pushing it in a hand cart. These guys lived a hard life with short life expectancy - sleeping under bow tents on the grass or heather moor and there, gathered around the fire they would make spoons and beakers and weapon handles as well as plying their other trades. They were very skilled and some examples of their work exist and are on show at the Highland Folk Museum in Kingussie not far from where we have our own workshops - if you're ever in town it's a place well worth visiting ( after you've been to see us that is !)

There's mountains more we could tell you about the history of horn but - well frankly - you might get bored - but if you really want to know call us or email us and we'll see what we can do to fill you in a bit more.




Speyside Horn, Kingussie, Inverness-shire
Tel 01540 661918 Email bill.steele4@btopenworld.com

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