Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Worshipful Company of Horners visit

MoDiP has been caring for the collection of the Worshipful Company of Horners for the past eleven years. These objects provide a comprehensive insight into the use of one of nature's plastics; defined as being a material that can be moulded with the application of heat (in this case with a soft flame or by dipping in boiling water or hot oil) and/or pressure (eg. using a press), in its natural form. By using techniques such as cutting, sanding and polishing, the material can be used to create a wide range of products.

Whilst horn artefacts have been found that date back to the 5th century BCE, its biodegradable nature has resulted in under-representation within the archaeological record. For example, evidence of horn working is commonly identified by the remains of the hard, bony inner cores (removed from the keratin outer layer which can then be worked), and metal fittings are often all that is found to indicate the presence of early drinking horns. However, it is historically recognised as having been a widely available and relatively cheap material that was commonly used for the production of everyday items, essential tools, weapons as well as decorative objects.

A selection of horn artefacts from the Worshipful Company of Horners’ collection.
Image credit: MoDiP

The first historic reference to the Worshipful Company of Horners was recorded in 1284, identifying it as a Livery Company with powers to control the craft within the City of London such as regulating conditions of employment and setting standards for workmanship. In 1476 they merged with the Bottlemakers, originally makers of leather bottles whose trade was being eroded by the introduction of glass and, as the craft of working with horn later declined, the Company adopted the emerging plastics industry in 1943, the two industries sharing many similar production techniques.

A 17th century leather
costrel (left) and modern replica.
Image credit: MoDiP

Their extensive collection of items made from horn ranges from simple agricultural tools such as drenches for use with cattle to sophisticated pressed and pierced combs as well as horn-working tools that demonstrate how the trade gradually became mechanised. Their earliest piece is a shoe horn dated to 1612, engraved with floral and geometric designs and bearing the legend 'Robart Mindum made this shooing horne for Ricard Gibon anno Domini 1612’. 

The objects laid out for the Horners to view.
Image credit: MoDiP

Recently, MoDiP travelled to a local hotel with a selection of these objects to meet with members from the Company. This was a postponed visit due to the Covid-19 lockdown and whilst we had hoped the group would be able to join us at the museum, current restrictions on visitor numbers unfortunately meant that would not be possible. So, if they could not come to us, we would go to them and we duly borrowed a van to carefully transport the objects a few miles down the road.

We spent the afternoon examining the collection in detail and a few favourites included: a set of six beakers, graduated in size to stack inside one another and dated to c.1910, a collapsible beaker in black and cream horn, an early 19th century engraved beaker depicting a hunting scene and a leather Black Jack with silver mounts, c.17th century. All seen in the image below. 

Cups and snuff boxes.
Image credit: MoDiP

The hornbook (seen below at the top of the table, centre) was also of particular interest. From the mid-sixteenth to the late nineteenth century, hornbooks were used as a teaching aid for children and were referred to as a primer. This example consists of a sheet of paper containing the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer, protected by a thin layer of transparent horn and mounted on a leather covered oak frame with a handle. It is stamped with a figure of Charles I on horseback on the reverse.

A selection of cutlery, combs and the hornbook.
Image credit: MoDiP

The entire collection is housed at the museum and is available for research. It can be viewed in person on request or viewed via the on-line catalogue.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer 


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