FOX HUNTING ACCESSORIES
Among those items used by the hunt were the stirrup cup and the wonderful copper hunting horn.
Before the hunt set off, they met up for the hunt breakfast at a local pub.
Sometimes they were hosted at the house of a member of the hunt, perhaps a local dignitary. After breakfast, the riders would mill about and it was at this point that the stirrup cup was passed around.
The stirrup cup is an attractive but rather impractical drinking vessel because it has no flat base on which to balance. Partly because of its shape - it is modelled to resemble the head of a fox or the head of a hound - the cup
has to pass from hand to hand. It was usually filled with a warming liqueur such as cherry brandy, rum or perhaps a hot, potent punch.
It was passed first to the Master of Fox Hounds, then to the Huntsman, who is traditionally the next most senior officer. The whipper-in and the noblest guests among the hunt followers were next in line, and, finally, it circulated among the other riders. On the largest hunts, a tray of glasses was passed round, or several stirrup cups, though most cups were only made and sold in pairs.
The traditional hunting design, representing a fox's or sometimes a hound's head, was introduced at the end of the 18th century. Skilled silversmiths first started to make them in about 1760. After 1800 they were normally cast, but made in the same design.
The cup was funnel-shaped and capable of holding little more than a typical sherry glassful. On the outside the ears were often laid flat to the head, though sometimes they were extended and served to support the hand when drinking. The cups had no feet but, for presentation purposes, some sets of silver stirrup cups were made with a stand designed to grace the display cabinets of Victorian dining rooms.
The hunting horn, which was used both to control the dogs and communicate with
far flung members of the hunt, was a straight horn much shorter in length than the posthorn used on coaches. It was often made of copper and brass but sometimes had a silver mouthpiece. It is precisely the sort of thing that can look good mounted on a chimney breast.
Other things that you might want to mount on the wall are items of leather harness. Riding crops can look good and so, too, can saddles, if you have the room. A more manageable collection might be of the stick pins that were used to hold the white stock in place. The head of the stick pin was often set with the image of a fox's or hound's head. Although the stirrup cup set huntsmen up at the start of the day, they usually took refreshments for later in the day. Strong drinks were usually carried in a flask of silver or
silver-cased glass, often in a protective leather case.
Stirrup cups first appeared in the 18th century but most of those on the market are Victorian. They have been made in a variety of materials, including silver gilt, but 'are usually either in silver or in china or porcelain. Check the hallmarks on silver stirrup cups; those from the Staffordshire potteries should be marked with the maker's name. Silver stirrup cups by
well known makers are much sought after and you will have to pay a hefty price for these, even at auction, and even more through a dealer.
In the last years of the 18th century Staffordshire potteries began making earthenware foxes' heads; early ones were quite crudely modelled and splashed in green glaze. Later ones were shallower and in more naturalistic colours with a rim of green. Some were earless and creamy-white with decorative olive-green markings. Few can be attributed to
Hounds' heads were introduced in the 19th century and are more easily attributable. Ralph Wood II from Burslem, for instance, made light olive-green earthenware ones with a translucent glaze, and John Turner of Green Dock produced
cane coloured versions, matt on the outside and glazed on the interior. Minton, Coalport, Rockingham and Spode produced bone china hound-head stirrup cups in natural colourings.
Stirrup cups were also made in the shape of quarry animals in other forms of sport. These include heads of deer, trout, hares, cockerels, bears, bulldogs, setters and bull terriers.
The brass hunting horn was a valued piece of hunt equipment, passed down from generation to generation, and was rarely discarded unless it became damaged in a fall. They do, however, appear from time to time in antiques shops.
Because they look good mounted on the wall, many have been snapped up by the pub trade, who display them alongside
horse brasses, leather horse collars and saddles and old hunting prints to give a rural feel to a pub interior. Because of the demand from pubs and hotels, these horns have been recently reproduced. A genuine old horn should be somewhat battered and scratched from long use, with the patina of an old instrument.
Huntsmen's whips, riding crops, stirrups and items of leather tack, including bridles and saddles, do sometimes come up for sale but most are discarded once they are no longer fit to use. To find them you probably need to go to a specialist dealer or to a saddler who deals in old equipment.
Riders' flasks in silver, leather and glass turn up in antiques shops and jewellers. Check that the stopper matches the flask and that the hallmark is the same as that on the base.