Follow the Stories | Savannah, Georgia (2004)
The Spencer-Hitchcock Carver
Used long ago by hunters and soldiers to carry their gunpowder and keep it dry, the handy curved containers were made from the hollowed-out horns of bulls, and were often hand-decorated too. But as with so many folk artists through the ages, time has not remembered the name of the artist who engraved the Savannah horn.
Who was the "Spencer-Hitchcock carver" who appraiser Bill Guthman believes engraved a powder horn that showed up in 2003 at the Savannah ANTIQUES ROADSHOW?
The answer is, nobody really knows.
Bill, an expert in antique militaria, coined the term "Spencer-Hitchcock carver" after noticing the stylistic similarities in two engraved powder horns he bought over 25 years ago. One powder horn was engraved with the name "Hobart Spencer" and the other with the name "Ebenezer Hitchcock," both soldiers. The two men served in Connecticut's Second Regiment during the French and Indian War, which was fought from 1755 to 1763 between the French and English colonialists in North America. Bill named the carver after the two soldiers who owned the horns because the engraver didn't sign them himself, and has thus been lost in the haze of history.
Bill was more than pleased to come across another example. "The carving on these three horns looks like they were done by the same man," he says. "The quality is excellent. The calligraphy is very distinctive. The letters have thick and thin copper-plate lettering with shaded accents. And the soldiers are lined up shooting at each other .... The eyes of the horses are the same as the eyes of the riders .... They look just like the buttons too."
All three horns also have quotes engraved on them—yet another indication that they had the same maker. Moreover, two of them—the horn owned by Hobart Spencer and the one brought in to Savannah bearing the name of another soldier of the same era, John Byington—even have the identical phrase engraved on them: "Men of might, they take to light, in gun and sword, that they might fight."
Bill also notes that the Savannah horn is still in excellent condition. The only wear on the horn is in its inner curve, where it once would have rubbed against its owner's body. "They could float, they were light, and they were comfortable to wear," Bill says of the horns, which were used until cartridges containing gunpowder began to become available around the time of the American Revolutionary War.
And what was once a standard part of every soldier's gear is now highly collectible. Bill valued the Savannah horn—this newly discovered example of the Spencer-Hitchcock carver's handiwork—at between $40,000 and $50,000. That's a price that surely would have startled the long-forgotten cattle farmer, the poorly paid soldier, and the unknown engraver alike.
See the Savannah, Georgia (2004) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
For more on this subject, see:
Drums A'beating, Trumpets Sounding: Artistically Carved Powder Horns in the Provincial Manner, 1746-1781. William Guthman. Connecticut Historical Society, 1993.
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Arms & Militaria category:
Fascinating Fasteners: Civil War Belt Buckles Louisville, Kentucky (2008)
Translation, Please ... Tampa, Florida (2006)
"American Indian" or "Native American"? Bismarck, North Dakota (2006)
So, Whose Pistol Is It? Honolulu, Hawaii (2007)
Armed With a Colt Letter ... Mobile, Alabama (2007)
What's the Deal with Confederate Flags? Salt Lake City, Utah (2007)
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a contributor to Antiques Roadshow Online since 1998.