Aalten is the only place in the Netherlands where products were made from buffalo horn, such as pipes, combs, buttons, signal whistles, needle cases and knife handles. No buffalo were slain or bred specially for their horn. Virtually all of the material was used, and what remained was scattered about the fields. After World War II, with the introduction of plastic and mass production, this industry disappeared.
The emergence of the local horn industry was strongly influenced by family ties. From 1855, five men started horn crafting in Aalten: Bernard Vaags, Gerrit Peters, Abraham ten Dam, Willem te Gussinklo and Wessel Becking.
Bernard Vaags went on Wanderschaft to Germany and got apprenticed to a horn crafter in Thüringen. When he came back, he bought a simple foot lathe and began the first horn lathe factory. In a small room in his parents’ shoemaker shop he made components for German pipes from buffalo horn. Vaags married Dora Prins, who ran a small shop. She also became a horn crafter and was called Piepen Deurken.
Gerrit Peters, a tanners’ son, was also apprenticed in Thüringen. From 1863, he worked in the Hogestraat. He married the wealthy Josina te Gussinklo and moved in with her in 1872 and established his horn workshop there, at the Köstersbult. He made long pipe stems and components for German pipes.
Abraham ten Dam co-founded the Comb Factory ‘Ten Dam & Manschot’ on the Damstraat in 1871. This was the only factory in the Netherlands where combs were made: white, black, natural coloured ornamental combs, Mexican combs, lice combs and moustache combs. The production of combs gave even more dust and stench than pipe manufacturing. In 1920 about 200 people worked here, including women and children.
Willem te Gussinklo and Wessel Becking learned the tricks of the trade at Gerrit Peters. They work together for a while, but move on separately in 1884. Willem made German pipes and handles for canes and umbrellas. Soon Willem te Gussinklo jr. (Piepkes Willem) joined the company, and he would develop into an innovative entrepreneur. The family also had a lot of influence at social life in Aalten. After the failed partnership with Willem te Gussinklo, Wessel Becking in 1880 started working together with B.G. Vaags, nephew and namesake of Bernard Vaags. Becking & Vaags made pipe stems and later knife handles. When the sale of the German pipe declined, the factory went to produce short briar pipes. The pipe factory in the Hoekstraat still stands today!
Johannes Peters left the house and his father’s workshop at the Köstersbult. In 1896, he started a partnership with Marcus Gans, a Jewish merchant. Their firm is called PEGA (Peters & Gans). The pipe factory was next to Peters’ house in the Gasthuisstraat (now Haartsestraat). Besides German pipes for German reservists, canes with horn handles were manufactured. After the factory of Johannes Peters in the Haartsestraat burned down in 1917, he established his pipe factory on the Admiraal de Ruyterstraat. Instead of German pipes, he mainly made briar pipes.
Willem te Gussinklo jr. soon focused on the manufacture of buttons. Due to tremendous growth, in 1924 the factory moved to the vacant weaving factory of Van Eijck in Bredevoort. The company NV Dutch Button Works (DBW) exported to England, Ireland and America and was the largest (horn) company in Aalten. After World War II the production of buttons from horn declined. In 1977 this last branch of horn processing industry was forced to close. That was the definitive end to 120 years of horn industry in Aalten.