Similar to the Hunting Horn was the European Post Horn. This is a sound that would have been frequent 200 years ago but is now missing. The Post Horn was persistent for centuries, for it began in the sixteenth century when the administration of the post was taken over by two families (Thurn & Taxis).
As the postal routes stretched from Norway to Spain, so did the Post Horn. Indeed Cervantes mentions them.
In Germany, the last post horn was heard in 1925. In England, the Post Horn was still in use in 1914 when the London-to-Oxford mail was conveyed by road on a Sunday. In Austria, Post Horns were also heard up until the end of the First World War, and even today no one is permitted to carry or sound a Post Horn, thereby enhancing the sentimental symbolism of the instrument (Article 24 of the Austrian Postal Regulations, 1957).
Apparently, the Post Horn used to employ a precise code of signals to indicate different types of mail (express, normal, local, packages) as well as calls for arrivals, departures, distress and an indication of the number of horses and carriages – in order that the changing stations will receive advance warning upon their arrival.
In Austria a new recruit was given six months to learn the signals and if he failed he would be dismissed.
Through the narrow streets and across the country landscape the Post Horn was heard, in the villages and alleys of cities, at the gates of castles above and by monastries in the valley below; everywhere it was greeted joyfully. It touched all of the strings of the human heart: hope, fear, longing and homesickness – it awakened all feelings with its magic.
The symbolism of a Post Horn worked differently from the symbolism of a Hunting Horn. It did not draw the listener out into the landscape but, working in reverse, brought news from far away to home.
The Post Horn was centripetal rather than centrifugal in character and its tones were never more pleasant than when it approached the town and delivered its letters and parcels to the expectant.