Even among antique horns, there are fakes amid the real

June 06, 1993|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen

As in any other field of collecting, there are plenty of fake powder horns. William H. Guthman notes there are more examples with historic maps, scenes and personages than carvers who worked during the period in which the depicted events took place could have made. Some are old horns whose 18th-century dates were carved in the 1820s to 1840s to convince officials their owners were veterans entitled to pensions or land bounties. Others likely were carved at the end of the 19th century to "establish" that ancestors had participated in the Revolutionary War so the family could join newly formed patriotic organizations like the Sons of the American Revolution.

According to Mr. Guthman, two earlier writers who tackled the subject of engraved powder horns, Rufus S. Grider (in the 1880s and '90s) and Stephen V. Grancsay (in 1946), published some fakes, inadvertently in cluding them with horns of first importance in their books. The whereabouts of many published horns are unknown today. Mr. Guthman hopes the exhibition and his book will bring to light both long-lost and previously undiscovered horns, helping to attribute others. One unrecorded signed horn, a veritable masterpiece, turned up in March at a Baltimore gun show.

Some powder horns on the market are recent commercial copies. "There are so many talented artists carving whale's teeth today, and so many undecorated powder horns with age and patina, what is to keep these scrimshaw makers from carving powder horns?" asks arms collector Russ Pritchard. "It takes someone like Mr. Guthman to determine what's real period embellishment and what's modern-made. He's like a master gemologist who knows a great diamond."

# --L.S.C. and S.S.C.

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