Thursday, July 28, 2016

2016 CLF Auction Item: Pipe Tomahawk by Paul Bigham

Few trade items were as important in the shrewd game of frontier diplomacy than the pipe tomahawk, and no European power was as successful in forging tribal alliances than France. Pipe hawks were gifted to favored chieftans and came to be a potent status symbol among tribal leaders. From trade negotiations to war councils, the pipe tomahawk was a vital tool for striking backcountry agreements.

This year's CLF fundraising auction will feature a fine example of an early French trade hawk crafted by artist Paul Bigham. A skilled rifle maker and bladesmith, Bigham has proved that exemplary craftsmanship can make surprising use of discarded materials. Starting with an antique wrought iron gun barrel, the artist hand-forged the blade of a classically styled pipe hawk before fitting it with a sharpened steel bit. The curly maple handle, finished with aqua fortis and hand-rubbed oil, is drilled and ready for smoking. The blade is further embellished with an engraved fleur-de-lis, a traditional Gallic motif drawn from the French royal coat of arms.

For Bigham's pipe tomahawk, it's a fitting symbol. The artist is based in Illinois, a locale first penetrated by French explorers in the 17th century. But even after the passage of several hundred years, CLA craftsmen like Paul Bigham ensure that the remarkable creative disciplines of a vanished culture will persist for future generations.

Paul Bigham can be contacted by email at

Copy by Heinz Ahlers with photos supplied by CLF.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Philadelphia Screw Tip Powder Horn by John Proud

A large Philadelphia screw tip horn, approximately 3&1/4 inch base diameter by 15 inches length on the outside curve. The base and spout plugs are English walnut supplied by the client as was the engraving design. The base band and spout collar are cast and turned pewter. The horn was treated with aqua fortis and heat, then rubbed down with a dilute solution of potassium permanganate.    

Copy and photos supplied by John Proud.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

2016 CLF Auction Item: Shot Bag by Darrel Lang

Eighteenth century artisans, while experts in their respective trades, were nonetheless known to regularly broaden the scope of their business operations. It's a practice that's quite familiar to their 21st century counterparts. One fine addition to the 2016 CLA fundraising auction bears mute testament to the age-old custom of artistic diversification: a straightforward shot bag by Michigan craftsman Darrel Lang.

"When I make a shot bag," explains Lang, "I try and produce something that a harness maker or cobbler of the colonies might have made on the side to make a little extra money." Lang's creations consequently reflect the crisp artistry of early America's professional leather workers. This handsome shot bag is appropriate for today's reenactor, but is likewise ready for the demanding conditions of the hunt. "I keep my bags simple in design," says the artist, "but make sure that construction of the bag will hold up under use in the field and in the woods." 

Lang's exacting craftsmanship ensures that the fortunate owner of this bag can confidently go afield with a fine piece of art. Deftly crafted from vegetable tanned cow hide, the bag is entirely hand sewn, hand dyed, and then carefully protected with neatsfoot oil and beeswax. The rig is closed with simple brass button, and the bag's strap is fully adjustable by means of a hand forged iron buckle. 

All in all, this shot bag is a well built reflection of Darrel Lang's no-nonsense creative ethos. "I want people to use them," he says, "as they would have been used in the 18th century, not just to hang on the wall."

Darrel Lang's business is Leather from the Past and his website is Darrel can also be reached via email at

Copy by Joshua Shepherd with photos supplied by CLF.