A horn beaker

The old phrase used to be ‘waste not, want not’. This implied that if you wasted nothing then you’d want for nothing. Certainly, in times past, very little was wasted.

Whether people were sentimental about animals they kept, we have no idea. But when the time came to dispatch the animal then every part of it was likely to find a use, whether it was food, clothing, or something else altogether.

Today we look at that last category – something else altogether. It’s a drinking vessel made out of cow horn.

An 18th century horn beaker at Market Lavington Museum

An 18th century horn beaker at Market Lavington Museum

This dates from the 18th century. A good bit of horn was identified as suitable for a beaker. It was cut, smoothed and then a base was fitted. And what an elegant item it made.

Now these days there will be plenty of people who object to the use of animal products. Our forebears just couldn’t afford to have such qualms. Trading in goods has gone on for centuries, but even so, by and large, people used locally produced products. Cow horn was widely used in rural areas to make drinking beakers.

The maker, or perhaps an owner, has scratched his initial on the base.

Initial 'H' scratched on the beaker's base

Initial ‘H’ scratched on the beaker’s base

Of course, we have no idea who ‘H’ was, but clearly his beaker meant something to him or her.

The beaker is on display in the kitchen at the museum.

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3 Responses to “A horn beaker”

  1. Pete Says:

    I’ve heard that in the days when only the rich could afford glass everyone else’s windows were made from discs of translucent cow horn. Haven’t been able to find any modern reconstructions of this on the internet anywhere though…..

  2. marketlavingtonmuseum Says:

    Fascinating comment, Pete. We’d not heard that one although we do believe that the popular ‘bull’s eye’ windows were offcuts from the blowing tube, not flat and very cheap.

  3. Pete Says:

    Actually, I have found a web page containing a picture of ‘The only cow horn window in England’:

    http://www.staveley.cumbria.sch.uk/York2010.htm

    Looks surprisingly effective, although no idea how they got them into those thin, straight strips. Perhaps they steamed them to bend them out of shape.

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