Become a Founding Member of The Board

Join Our Discussion Forum

Drinking horns; “GREIFEN KLAUE” [1]


Shown: A WMF blown glass and silver plated drinking horn, Ca. 1885. [JS]

“Greifen = Griffin!”   The legendary animal that started all this, “drinking from his claws” way back in the European early middle ages.  Detail of horn lid = see last example this page.


“The use of special vessels for drinking purposes may fairly be assumed to have had a natural origin and development. From a practical point of view it would soon be found desirable to provide vessels for liquids in addition to those serving to hold food. As in many other commonplace details of modern life, we must turn to the primitive races to understand how our present conditions were reached. In almost all parts of the world many of the products of nature are capable of serving such purposes, with little or no change at the hands of man; in tropical and sub-tropical climates the coco-nut and the gourd or calabash require but little change to adapt them as the most convenient of drinking utensils; the eggs of the larger birds, such as the ostrich or the emu, shells, like the nautilus and other univalves, as well as the deeper bivalves, are equally convenient.
As we shall see, civilized man has adopted nearly all the natural forms that were found convenient by the savage, altering and  adorning them in accordance with the taste of the time or country where they were used.

“Nothing could form a more practical drinking cup than the half of a coco-nut shell or part of a gourd.”
“Another line of development, however, has been found to be the natural outcome of the human mind. Nothing could form a more practical drinking cup than the half of a coco-nut shell or part of a gourd. Such cups, however, in the countries where the plants producing them are common, would be easily obtained, and every one, rich or poor, could possess one or more. In order, therefore, to distinguish the chief’s possessions from those of his inferiors, his cup is often made with great labour, from some more intractable material, wood or stone, though in practically the same form as that of the natural object.”

Griffin Claw, on a Griffen Claw Drinking horn. – The early Nordics fancied the idea of the existence of Griffins, a beast  that was made of the head and legs of an eagle and the body of a lion. And so the horns themselves were also called “griffin clawes.” Later when they were mounted with bronze and silver and it was only natural to have the supporters molded in the form of the griffins claws also.

“After the decline of Roman power, the Gothic and Scandinavian races who replaced the Romans in central and northern Europe Gothic and brought with them their own forms and types of drinking vessels. These, from about the 4th century,’ replaced the well-known Roman vessels. The northern barbarians were as great drinkers as fighters, and their literature recites with equal zest the richness of their drinking cups as the power and deadly qualities of their arms. Fortunately the practice of burying with the dead warrior all his property, or at least as much of it as he would be supposed to need, has preserved to our day the actual vessels in use by the pagan Northmen who pervaded northern ‘Europe from the 4th century onward. Saxon graves in Britain have furnished great numbers of drinking cups and horns, in. many cases quite unbroken.  From the remains, of which the chief series are in the British and Liverpool Museums, we can learn a great deal to amplify the references in literature.”

Detail off the side of a .5 liter pottery relief stein, with a fur capped barbarian (German) holding up his drinking horn.


“The richest single interment that has yet been found was within the present churchyard at Taplow. Here under a huge mound lay buried a Saxon chieftain surrounded by his belongings; arms defensive and offensive, his drinking cups, and even his game of draughts. The drinking vessels consisted of five cows’ horns and four glass cups. The former were of great size, 2 ft. long, richly mounted at the mouth and at the point with silver bands embossed and gilt. The glasses also were of great size and of a type familiar in Saxon interments. Each was of a trumpet shape, with a small foot, while the sides were ornamented with hollow pointed tubes bent downwards, and open on the inner side, so that the liquid would fill them. Such a plan is most unpractical, and it must have been very difficult to keep the vessels clean. Glasses of this uncommon form have not been found elsewhere than in Saxon graves, either in England or in the north of the continent. Other types are perhaps nearly as characteristic, though of simpler construction. One of these is a simple cone of glass, sometimes quite plain, at others ornamented with an applied spiral glass thread, or more rarely with festoons of white glass embedded in the body of the vessel.”










Stamp, 1976 showing a drinking horn from Sweden , 14th Century!

A third form is a plain cup or bowl widely expanded at the mouth and with a rounded base, so that it could only be set down when empty, in fact a true “tumbler.” This feature is in fact a very common. one in the drinking vessels of the Saxon race. (Editor’s note: we now call these  a “stirrup cups.”)  See Illus. #654 below on the 3rd print below.

Picture stone from Tjengvide, Gotland, showing a woman offering a drinking horn in welcome to a man on horseback.

Medieval glass drinking horn, a replica.

“There are many other varieties, plain cylindrical goblets, generally with ornamental glass threads on the outside, and a more usual type has a rounded body somewhat of the shape of an orange with a wide plain mouth. Many of all these classes were found in the famous cemetery known as the King’s Field at Faversham in Kent (the relics from which are now in the British Museum), at Chessel Down in the Isle of Wight, and in the cemetery within the ancient camp on High Down, near Wprthing. In Belgium, France and Germany the same types occur, and even as far north as Scandinavia, where they are found in association with Roman coins of the 4th century. On the continent, however, additional types are found that do not occur in Britain—one of these is a drinking glass in the form of a hunting hem with glass threads forming an ornamental design on the outside.  (See above) From the wide distribution of these types, it seems certain that they sprang originally from a common centre, and the slender evidence available on the subject seems to point to that centre having been somewhere on the lower Rhine. Although glass seems to have been popular and by no means rare as a material for drinking vessels, other materials also were used”

Blown clear glass. Advertised on eBay  in the fall of 2011 as: “Rare 17th century Dutch, curved drinking horn. Unusually large size 19 inches.” Without looking at it in my hands or knowing the seller’s qualifications on determining such, I might think it to be a “historismus”  copy of a medieval horn. Another “crap shoot!”

Detail of end finial of the glass horn above.

Sieglinde Drinking from a Horn, F. B. Doubek artwork.



















An 1882 Woodcut  of a glass drinking horn, Iron Age,  archaeological Item.

Of the later Saxon domestic utensils nothing remains, the habit of burying such objects with the dead having ceased on the gradual introduction of Christianity through the country. Manuscripts are our only resource, and they are not only of great rarity, but in the main rudely and conventionally drawn in their details. In those of the 9th to the 11th century various simple forms are seen, some resembling our modern tumbler in shape, others like a dice box.

1889 Wood Engraving Glass Drinking-horn Norway Glass Vessel Ends Open,  Viking Age

Horns as drinking vessels certainly retained their popularity at all times, surviving especially among the northern nations, and many of the vessels of this form were no doubt actual horns, though horn-shaped vessels were often made of other materials. Until we come to the I3th and I4th centuries there is an absolute dearth of the actual objects used in domestic life. And here we begin with plate used in the service of the church. ……
………………The materials of which chalices were made in the early centuries seem to have been as various as those of ‘ordinary vessels. Glass was undoubtedly a favourite substance, perhaps from its lending itself readily to scrupulous cleanliness;  (Cont. below)

Antique print of ancient German ivory drinking horn.





















1889 Wood Engraving Ornament Drinking Horn,  Spoon,  Ornamentation Bronze, from Gotland

Blown glass drinking horn, Antwerp ,1680.

The process  of blown glass drinking horns went from those such as in the example above in the 1680’s to the ones below in a short 200 years. Mostly decorative or used as vases.

.but wood, horn, ivory and similar materials were undoubtedly in use, and were from time to time condemned as improper by the Fathers of the Church. Pewter was in common use, and it was not an unusual practice in the 12th and I3th centuries to place sacramental vessels, of this or more precious metal, in the grave of an ecclesiastic. Bronze was also used, and the Kremsmunster chalice is of that metal, which was a favourite one in the Celtic church. but gold or silver chalices were no doubt always preferred when they could be obtained.!” “It may be mentioned here that it was a common practice in the 16th century and later in England for laymen to make gifts to the church of vessels of an entirely domestic character for use in the service. Many of these from their associations, and in the character of the designs upon them, were entirely unsuited for such purposes, and in our own time, when a healthy desire has sprung up for the proper investigation of such matters, many such unsuitable vessels have been withdrawn from use. Domestic plate, however, being much more highly appreciated by collectors, there has been a regrettable tendency on the part of the holders of such pieces to sell them to the highest bidders; the tendency is to be deplored, for while they remain the property of the church, they are a national asset; if sold by auction, there is a great probability of their going abroad.”

“In the 15th and 16th centuries the shapes, decoration and materials of drinking vessels were almost endless. A favourite object to be so adapted was an ostrich egg, and many can be seen in museums in elaborate silver mounts; coco-nuts were also  used in the same way, and Chinese and other Oriental wares then of great variety, were often turned into cups and vases by ingeniously devised silver mounting. The use of drinking vessels either formed of actual horns or of other materials was common in the 15th and 16th centuries, especially in Northern Europe.”

Drinking-horn in the possession of Queen’s College, Oxford, dating from the I4th century.

“They were usually provided with feet so as to serve as standing cups, and some of them were mounted with great richness. An excellent example is the famous drinking-horn in the possession of Queen’s College, Oxford, dating from the I4th century. The medieval beliefs about “griffins’ claws” still survived to this late date.”

I recently had some correspondence with a  young medievalist  and drinking horn collector, who designed and had this horn made, then presented it to a teacher of his. What a great present. Wish I had friends like that.

The silver  reads: “SCHOLAR, TEACHER , FRIEND,” done in the 9th century old Saxon language!  The similarity to the one  just above was coincidental I understand.


A more modern desigen say mid 1800’s. The figural putti supporter is of bronze, with the mounts being of copper. This one of course could be used as a vase, and probably was.

FOR A GREAT VIDEO SHOWING THE NORMANS AND DRINKING CUSTOMS: and the battle that changed the direction of Merri Old England.

I found two diiferent credits for this same horn:



‘Drinking Horn of the Calivermen’s Civic Guard of Amsterdam’ by Arent Coster. Circa 1521-1563 , in Amsterdam.

THE GUILD HORN OF ST. GEORGE 1566, Now in the  RIJKSMUSEUM, AMSTERDAM. No size given. (Notice how the dragon is on its back and serves as the holder for the horn and mounts!)

Other material than horn used for the “Horns.”

A circa 1890 -1920 blown glass drinking horn with enameled scene. [R] Detail of color change on handle.

A modern day copy of a clear glass “horn stein,”  the design made famous by W.M.F. back about 1900. Some of the older horns had a silver-plated brass lid, not pewter as on this one, or the one just below. 
W.M.F. Glass drinking horn stein – Circa 1885.
These horns, originally and usually made from bison, long horn steers, or water buffalo were in the old days used only for drinking. Now many / most are made just for display such as for real flowers no less!
Many times their mounting screws are too long, then covered in a sealant and will penetrate the horn making it worthless to remove from the holder to drink from!















Porsgrund Porcelain, Norway – Porsgrunn porcelain factory was founded in Porsgrunn in 1885, These  two pieces are Circa 1900-20 I believe.

Enameled glass horn and stand (unmovable horn) Eggerman Bohemian, 1890’s.

Whenever one sees two of these horns together – please  be alert. They were probably made for, and used as flower vases and are not drinking horns!


Another pair of vases  or mantel displays. Length from point to butt is 18″. An insert goes 7″ deep,  and the height with legs attached is 7 3/4″ from tabletop to top of rim. These have hoves as supporters, which is very unusual. I’m thinking English made.  Ca. 1860 – 90.



Some “Alt Germans” enjoying their drinking horn. [L] Detail of 1/s liter pottery stein. [R] 1/2 liter pottery relief stein, circa 1910 by Hanke.

And of course even on a V & B Mettlach,  PUG NO. 2261 – DEC- 1012.


.5 liter Rorstrand (Sweden) Porcelain  gnome stein, with lid added later.

Detail of the Rorstrand gnomes toasting with small drinking horns.

Below:  A few more German beer steins showing the custom of using a horn to drink from:


Note: The V & B, Mettlach, PUG stein to the above left, was recently advertised on eBay as: ” Two gnomes listening to a ear device!” (I almost fell on the floor, laughing.)   [R] Elsa offering Lowengrin a drink from a “Welcome Horn.”

Painted pottery relief stein by Marzi and Remi. [FWTD]  Showing Neptune drinking from a hand held horn. The opposite side scene is The Loreley See  Page web site:

18th century Ivory tankard showing drinking from a horn. Sold at Sotheby’s for a couple of  BIG bucks I am certain.

Along the same line of holding up one’s horn and toasting but a lot cheaper, here is a .5 liter salt-glazed stoneware stein made by Gerz about 1890. I’m thinking the center figure should be “Hermann.”  (See:


A molded porcelain insert for a glass stein’s lid.


Detail of the ring in the lion’s mouth

Shown above:  A pewter mounted horn made sometime in the mid 1900’s. Detail of the ring which is purely decorative as this type horn is made to sit on its feet.














With the advent of the ‘Renaissance Fairs’ become popular world wide, lots of handymen are making their own horns. This great example was sent to me by a reader. He did the horn and all the pewter work himself. What a neat hobby for the talented.

[Photos comps of Ronald Bosch, designer and maker.]

An older type of hand held horn made in Georgia, USSR, (and has the ”84′ silver mark) which used ‘niello’ in the engraved design and had a somewhat realistic bird’s head as the end finial.[FWTD]On earlier ones, (pre-USSR), the bird has a very long and open at the end beak, also with mounted green stone eyes.


A newer, painting on board of an older gentleman drinking from a “bird headed”ended horn.

A “brand new” horn made in present day Georgia (the country not the state. I’m not certain the mounts are silver anymore.  Looks like tin to me.

An interesting horn , but I think not an original lid or holder arrangement. Brass mounts on the lip and end, a decorative iron ring holding it, and a pewter lid.

A WMF horn,  probably a sports award, with taller than usual silver plated brass mounts. The silver plating  is worn off .)  Circa 1890.

WMF, in Germany was a very large producer of this type of mounted display horns, done mostly in silver plated brass. WMF was almost as large as Elkington in England and certainly sold more “Continental type items” Especially in Europe. Now having said that, that fact didn”t preclude Elkington from trying to get it share of the business of  old drinking horn customs
In the photo shown below: a display in England of Elkington’s wares in 1851. Notice the smaller un-lidded horn on the floor, center.

One of my most favorite photos – not only is the horn fine looking, but the Scandinavian girl is too!


Above: Two old horns, These were actually used at ceremonial gatherings. Left: 34 inches long. The one on the bottom was  for sale in Germany for 5K (I think it might stay in Germany  for a bit!)

Above: These two horns have cords with alternating colors. These were probably the property of some student association and those were their primary colors on their coat of arms. Sorry, no sizes given, but large.


From this page’s  beginning photo: Griffin horn, bronze or bronzed mounts, with a Griffin’s head for a lid. Sold in Germany at J. Vogt’s, Munich, in the late 2000’s, for lots of money!

This 20 inch tall, silver- plated Student Society drinking horn, made by WMF about 1880-90, was once owned by Col. (Ret) John Ey,  a member of the “Gambrinus Stein (Collectors) Club of VA, MD, and DC”. John was  also one of the first  SCI Master Steinologists and one hell of nice old guy to us “kids” back then. At least three of Col. Ey’s steins were featured in National Bohemian’s (Baltimore) Beer’s, ” Life Magazine”  ad campaign. [For another one of his steins in this ‘National Bohemian’ sudsy beer  foam series. See the other ad at:

This horn now resides at it’s new owner’s home, [via John Ey, via John Stuart, via Judy Stuart] now two states away of where John Ey retired and passed away. Here is a photo of it in its new location; in about the same pose as on the ad, but with the lid on it.

[END – PAGE ONE – SOK – RD – 54 – 3D]

“Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?”


sos - drinking horn  add to page  xx inches tall  CERAMIC COPY BROK EASY  BROKE GETTING OUT OF THE BOX.

JANUARY 2014: ► [FWTD]  A 30  Inch tall all ceramic drinking  horn  used for display. Not a real horn!  This was a disaster waiting to happen!! There is an iron shaft coming from the base through the [also] ceramic ball just under the elephant. It was shipped and packed okay,  but when I lifted  it out of the box the upper body weight put way  too much stress on the ball and the thing shattered into about 5 pieces, Now  I have to figure some way to support the whole thing  while being upright so  I  can try to repair the ball around the shaft.  Good luck, Steve!  


SOS - 'Griffin's Claw' of St. Cuthbert   SEE REST WITH FAVORITES   BRIT MUS.



Culture: English (Durham)
Date: mount: 1575–1625
Material: Ibex horn, silver
Dimensions: length: 71.1 cm
Inscribed: gryphi unguis divo cuthberto dunelmensi sacer (The claw of a griffin sacred to the blessed Cuthbert of Durham)
Provenance: Robert Bruce Cotton (1571–1631); Sir Thomas Cotton (d. 1662), by inheritance; Sir John Cotton (d. 1702), by inheritance; 1701, English Parliament, by donation; The British Museum, London, 1753, by transfer