Post horn

German post horn (19th century)
Post horn

The post horn (also posthorn, post-horn) is a valveless cylindrical brass instrument with cupped mouthpiece, used to signal the arrival or departure of a post rider or mail coach. It was used especially by postilions of the 18th and 19th centuries. Mail coaches had tight schedules and travelled at high speed, given priority of way in most countries. Other road users were required to clear completely out of the way. In this manner, the post horn was employed as a modern-day siren, the sound travelling some distance ahead and giving warning of a fast-approaching mail coach before it could be seen.

The post horn is often incorrectly referred to as the coach horn. While the two types of horn principally served the same purpose, the post horn was generally used on a coach pulled by two horses, technically referred to as "in tandem". Hence it is sometimes also called the tandem horn; whereas the coach horn was used on a coach pulled by four horses, technically referred to as a "four-in-hand". Physical differences consist of the following: the post horn has a smaller bore, has a maximum length of 32 inches, the bell is trumpet shaped, the instrument need not be straight but can be coiled, it will have a slide for tuning if intended to be played in an orchestra, and is entirely made of brass; whereas, the coach horn has a larger bore, is no longer than 36 inches, the bell is funnel-shaped not curved outward like a trumpet bell, the instrument must always be straight, and the instrument is traditionally made of one piece of copper (although telescoping versions were developed) with ideally German silver or real silver mouth-piece and mountings. [1]

The instrument commonly had a circular or coiled shape with three turns of the tubing, though sometimes it was straight. It is therefore an example of a natural horn. The cornet was developed from the post horn by adding valves.[2]

Compositions with/for post horn

Beer's Concerto

In the late 17th century, Johann Beer composed a Concerto à 4 in B, which paired a posthorn with a corne de chasse as the two solo instruments, accompanied by violins and basso continuo.

Mozart's Posthorn Serenade

Mozart composed his Serenade No. 9, the "Posthorn Serenade", in 1779.

Mahler and Others

Mahler and others incorporated the post horn into their orchestras for certain pieces. On such occasions, the orchestra's horn player usually plays the instrument. One example of post horn use in modern classical music is the famous off-stage solo in Mahler's Third Symphony. Due to the scarcity of this instrument, however, music written for it is usually played on a trumpet or flugelhorn.

Post Horn Galop

In 1844, the German cornet player Hermann Koenig[3] wrote Post Horn Galop (Post Horn Gallop) as a solo for post horn with orchestral accompaniment.[4] In the 20th century it became a popular piece for brass bands.[5] During World War I wooden post horns were used as a means of collecting war donations via a method called the Nail Men. People would donate, and in exchange be allowed to hammer a nail into the horn, until the horn was completely covered. Since 1941 it has been played, usually on bugle, at the beginning of home matches of Leicester City Football Club of Association Football in Britain.[6]

The post horn as graphical symbol

The post horn is used in the logo of national post services in many countries. The post horn is included in Unicode as U+1F4EF 📯 POSTAL HORN.[7]

List of postal services that include the post horn in their logos

Examples of post horns as graphics

See also


  1. Guard, An-Old (1907). The Coach-Horn: What To Blow And How To Blow It (7th ed.). London, England: Koehler and Son. p. 34.
  2. Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1940), 428.
  3. Koenig, Hermann. "Tutor For The Cornet". qPress, Zephyr Wind Music. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  4. The Posthorn Gallop, Entry in "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music", 4th edn., Kennedy (ed.), Oxford University Press.
  5. Taylor, Arthur (1983). Labour and love: an oral history of the brass band movement. Elm Tree Books.
  6. Rousing tune leads way for City victory
  7. "Postal Horn Emoji". Emojipedia.
  8. "Top 10 Australian Logos – 9th". Retrieved 22 May 2013.
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