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Canes, Walking Sticks, Are Fashionable Collectibles

Canes, or walking sticks, as they were formerly known, are a reminder of the pre-World War I era when gentlemen considered a proper walking stick a necessary accessory. These sticks were not just for walking, however.

Considered a fashion statement, walking sticks were also valuable as status symbols and even for self-defense.

Yes, walking sticks were seen as a handy weapon, during the age of dueling pistols and other refined moments of violence.

Used since ancient times, canes can be ornate and elaborate. Today collectors find these old-fashioned treasures fun to study and display.

Some collectors seek only canes with special features, like hidden knives, swords, whiskey flasks or risqué pictures seen through peepholes. Others seek canes that date to a certain era or certain design.

Canes and walking sticks are remarkably varied and include a variety of decorative heads made of gold, ivory, or exotic materials like animal bones.

Common woods used in walking sticks include bamboo, ebony, maple, sandalwood, and rosewood. Others were made of glass and many were trimmed in gold, silver or brass.

Walking sticks were often given as a gift or commemorative item. Civil War veterans were often presented with canes commemorating battles. Reportedly, President James Madison’s favorite walking sticks were made from wood taken from the famous United States Navy warship, the USS Constitution during one of its renovations.

These commemorative canes, made from material taken from historic buildings, ships or forts, are also referred to as relic canes.

Shipwreck relics were especially popular for this use.

The ladies too had clever canes that were meant to accessorize their outfits during the Victorian age, but ladies’ canes date back much earlier to the Middle Ages, when French women carried slender applewood walking sticks, according to cane collector and expert Jeffrey B. Snyder.

Snyder has written a definitive book on the walking stick habit called, “Canes From the 17th – 20th Century.”

Values for canes can range the gamut, from under $50 for an ebony walking stick, mounted with a brass eagle’s head to thousands of dollars for an antique version with intricate carvings. Condition, special features, exotic materials and the history or provenance (who owned it before) of the cane is most important to collectors.

But all walking sticks are attractive to display in an entry hall or umbrella stand. These elegant reminders of a slower, walking for social purposes society, are works of art and are classified as folk art today.

The handles of canes are most interesting and can take the form of dogs, eagles, stag horns, snakes, and human heads. Probably the most common cane head is a simple curved crook handle. Another is a gold or brass knob with engraving that recalls the recipient — these were typically given as gifts at retirements or other life moments.

Since antique canes were a reflection of the culture and a lady and gentleman never went anywhere without one, there is a wide variety of feminine versions.

Canes designed for the female sex might include perfume bottle in the handle or a vanity handle that included a comb and mirror done in Bakelite.

Besides cane collecting, umbrellas offer another variation of the cane that is attractive to serious collectors. Interested in learning more about this fascinating hobby? I found the website Fashionable Canes.com very informative and full of great photos of these stylish treasures, both old and new.


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