Passionate American hunter Grosvenor Merle-smith has compiled a comprehensive reference on the instrument that punctuates a day’s hunting

In his book The Hunting Horn, author Grosvenor Merle-Smith explains all there is to know about the instrument from their history, to how they’re made.

Meet Sporting Diana Lydia Cope, a stalwart of the Pytchley and an accomplished team chaser, who leads an equestrian life to the full.

An enviable mix of breeding and attitude makes the Irish hunter the perfect companion for a day across the most challenging country, says Sarah Kate Byrne


It has been said in many ways, probably since the dawn of time, that a bad day of hunting is better than a good day of almost anything else. I’ve said it myself, and more to the point there are almost as many reasons to foxhunt as there are foxhunters.

In today’s intense, complicated world, hunting gives one an opportunity to get out in the countryside and immerse oneself into something that has a way to make everything else seem less important than the experience at hand. It manages that in a million ways for as many different reasons… and that is magic.

Today, foxhunters love hearing a well-blown hunting horn out in the hunt field, rolling out of the depths of some covert, the echo floating across the countryside. Throughout the history of hunting with hounds we have utilised some form of horn to communicate with both the hounds we are hunting and our fellow hunters, and as much as we enjoy hearing it, most foxhunters hardly know one end of the horn from the other. Even in the off season we look forward to the horn blowing competitions with almost as much excitement as a main hound show event, but for most of us the experience ends there. I’d like to introduce most of the fox-hunting world to what I find an overlooked, fascinating little detail that is an integral part of our sport: the horns we use.

For our purposes, and with only minimal exceptions, hunting horns can be divided into three categories. The first grouping would be natural animal horns, or an arcuate copy thereof. This is certainly from where this entire business evolved. From prehistoric times when hunters had limited ability to create any kind of horn form, animal horns were an ubiquitous wonderful solution.

The second category to be delineated would be generally larger, coiled metal instruments, such as those used in Europe today. Animal horns not only have a limited ability to play a musical tune but they are all essentially unique, each creating a unique instrument. As the science of metallurgy evolved, so did man’s ability to create larger, longer instruments and, with this technology, replicate a design either by casting or hammering parts out of sheet metal.

Identical brass horns could be produced in numbers, with the capability of playing a range of notes and thus enabling multiple instruments to play tunes together.

Near the end of the 18th century, a number of things changed in England that sent the look and style of mounted hunting in a new direction. Farming practices were changing with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and common, open land was fenced to be more efficiently used through legislation known as the Enclosure Acts. As woodland gave way to open plough, speed was bred into the hounds, and with hounds spending more of their time in the open, the necessity for such varied horn communication lessened. More and more fences cut across the countryside and jumping those fences became more of a necessity to stay with hounds. Mounted foxhunting huntsmen started carrying smaller horns. These new small horns were not capable of playing melodic hunting tunes, as their typical range is only a few bending notes, but they were easier to handle riding fast across country. They were also less painful and much less expensive to fall on.

My third category would be this resulting small, short and generally straight metal instrument that we consider the English hunting horn. Many of these are marked either by their maker or seller. I have tried hard to find documented examples of American- or European-made English-style hunting horns but except for very few, every marked horn in this book is English made. The book, The Hunting Horn, What to know and how to know it, will enable a horn to be identified and dated as closely as possible. This adventure has been my personal connection to most of the greatest huntsmen who ever lived. I’ve followed up every opportunity to see a ‘new’ horn until I’m fairly confident that at long last I’m getting close to presenting a reasonably comprehensive work. That said, I hope that this book stirs the pot and brings some wonderful new horns to light.


1. Butler

George James Butler, considered the progenitor of the Butler musical instrument business, was born in 1799 in Dublin and died 1870 in Haymarket, London. He was a musical instrument maker who established his business in Dublin in 1826 as a successor to a Mr Dollard, perhaps Isaac Dollard, who had been in business there since around 1810. As a rule, Butler horns are exceptionally fine and this horn is a typical example of their quality. The bell is copper with a German silver ferrule, mouthpiece and bell rim. Additionally, there are three triangular German silver reinforcements travelling down the side of the bell from the ferrule. These are an unusual and very attractive way to strengthen the horn. The Butler mark is well stamped into the bell of the horn.

2. Champion & Wilton

Because of a saddler’s close affiliation to the hunting world, it makes sense for them to carry associated accessories, such as hunting horns. Marked with the company name, horns are an excellent, long-lasting, direct advertising tool. Many saddlers had them available. Champion & Wilton didn’t for many years but the firm bought out enough business concerns that did, that eventually someone thought it was a good idea to sell them. This is a reed horn made to look like a regular horn. The horn is copper with a nickel silver ferrule and mouthpiece, which actually unscrew to come off as a unit revealing the reed. The company mark is hand engraved.

3. Köhler

The Köhler name represents, perhaps, the greatest dynasty in the hunting horn manufacturing business. This exceptional horn is copper with an extra-long brass ferrule. The mouthpiece is nickel and is marked with the Köhler touch mark. Applied to the outside of the horn from the mouthpiece down for 80% of the horn length are three nickel strips, providing extra strength and décor. The bell rim is formed with an outward wrap around a steel wire. The maker’s mark lettering is stamped and much smaller than on earlier horns and above the mark are the medals from the 1851 and 1862 exhibitions. The horn belonged to Charles Augustus Stanhope (1844-1917) – MFH of the Earl of Harrington’s Hunt in South Nottinghamshire from 1892-99 – who was the 8th Earl of Harrington. His name is engraved on the back of the horn.

4. Schott

Schott & Co, a company still famous today for its music publishing, was founded in Mainz, Germany, by Peter Bernhard Schott (1748-1809), a copperplate engraver and clarinetist, in 1770. This horn has the Regent Street address hand engraved on it. On the ferrule, perpendicular to the maker’s mark, ‘F. Goodall’ has been hand-engraved. This is a very interesting horn as it belonged to Frank Goodall (Snr) (1831-1906) – the brother of Will Goodall, huntsman of the Belvoir from 1842-59 – who hunted the Royal Buckhounds from 1872 until 1888. Frank gave the horn to Charles Hamblin (1850-99), who was the kennel huntsman for the 8th Duke of Beaufort from 1871 until 1896. The horn was later engraved with ‘C. HAMBLIN/HUNTSMAN/1883’.

5. Thomas Percival

Thomas Percival’s name was well-respected when it came to hunting horns. In the New Sporting Magazine, Surtees’ comic Cockney character, the jolly John Jorrocks, describes a fox going away from covert in 1838 with: ‘The old low-crowned ’at’s in the hair, and now every man ’oops and ’ollows to the amount of his subscription. Twang! twang! twang! goes the Percival; crack! crack! crack! go the whips; ’ounds, ’osses, and men, are all in a glorious state of excitement! Full o’ beans and benevolence!’ This is a copper horn with a German silver ferrule and mouthpiece. The Percival maker’s mark is hand-engraved in an arc in block capital letters. Perpendicular to this in lovely, bold script up the body of the horn is Quorn Kennels. The provenance of this horn is unknown but surely it is authentic and perhaps used by the likes of George Beers or Frank Gillard when they were at the Quorn.

Horn construction

Most English hunting horns are created using a standard method of making the individual parts and assembling. Typically, the maker will mark out and cut the shape from a flat sheet of metal that is to become the bell of the horn. That piece is then wrapped around a steel mandrel and hammered into shape with a mallet. The mandrel creates a precise and repeatable shape. It follows that every model of horn therefore has its own specific mandrel. As the sheet metal is hammered and shaped it becomes harder and harder. Heating it up to red heat and allowing it to cool slowly, in a process called annealing, will remove internal stresses and soften it again. A balance between working the cold metal and annealing will give the instrument the desired hardness.

The metal has now been formed around the mandrel creating a seam that must be joined. To create a strong joint, one side overlaps the other and the resulting seam is then prepared by ‘cramping’. This is not creating dovetails, as it is often mistakenly called. The cramp is created by hammering the overlapping edges of the sheet, feathering them down to about half their original thickness. One side remains straight, the other has slits cut into it at right angles to the edge. The resulting flaps, or keys, on the one side are bent out to slip alternately above and below the other straight side when the two are pulled together. Once the two sides are tight together, the flaps are hammered close and brazed with an alloy having a lower melting point or soldered to form a keyed or castellated joint that is close to the original thickness. The bell is then placed back on the mandrel and planished into its finished shape.

The rim of the bell is inherently weak, so a variety of techniques are used to strengthen it. The simplest and most cost-effective solution is to fold the edge back on itself, doubling its thickness. Rolling the rim around a ring of wire was a common way to make a stronger, more decorative rim. Spinning the work, a process used since Roman times to manipulate metal and clean it up, made this a popular, easy resolution because a tool can push the spinning rim smoothly back over itself and around a wire. Sometimes an annular piece is fashioned using a complementary metal, such as to match the ferrule, and fitted to create the rim of the bell. Perhaps the most complicated and expensive technique is to add a garland, a flat band of metal, to the rim of the bell, effectively doubling the thickness of the rim. While usually reserved for larger instruments, we do see hunting horns with garlands. In a similar manner to creating the bell, a ferrule is made to join the bell of the horn to the mouthpiece. It is often made in a complementary metal, most commonly a nickel alloy. The small end of the bell slips into the larger end of the ferrule.

The mouthpiece is created by either casting it or turning it on a lathe. Most often it is made of metal and can be brazed or soldered into the ferrule along with the bell. If the mouthpiece is turned from bone or ivory, then it must be threaded to screw into a threaded end of the ferrule. Occasionally, metal mouthpieces are threaded to be exchangeable, such as on many of the Boosey horns. The horn is then marked with the business or maker’s name and polished.

To purchase a copy of The Hunting Horn, What to know and how to know it by Grosvenor Merle-Smith, price £65, call 07803126393, email or visit: