History of Walking Sticks or Canes

 

 

Walking sticks have existed in one form or another since the first Homo sapiens used branches for support over rough terrain and for defense. The word cane comes from ancient times when the shafts of most canes were constructed of bamboo. Cane became the most widely used material to make walking sticks, evolving later into the generic name for the product.

During the 16th century the walking stick was widely accepted as an accessory of elegance and social prominence. It was used by the aristocracy of Europe and the gentlemen of the 18th and 19th centuries. In 18th century France, the walking stick was a requisite of the fashionable dress. The 19th century was the hey-day for walking sticks in Europe and America finding the fashionable American gentleman in possession of several canes for different occasions. Tiffany and Faberge made them along with all the important porcelain houses, craftsmen and seamen. During the 20th century the cane lost its popularity among the well-dressed and came to be used by those whose age and health required them or hikers and climbers.

But in the 21st century the walking stick is rapidly re-gaining popularity. Forget function, walking sticks and canes are enjoying resurgence among collectors who cherish their designs and history.
Collectors scour the world for ethnic sticks reflecting ones culture or race, hand made canes by woodworkers deciphering their sticks with intricate hand carvings, hand painted canes, canes printed with flowers and animals, artistic staffs topped with handles of gold, silver, porcelain, wood and ivory. Serious collectors bid on canes at auction. Faberge-headed canes have sold for $15,000 to $17,000; the cane carried by P. T. Barnum was sold for over $125,000 and a French cane encrusted with gold and diamonds was sold for $60,000.

We hear quite often of collectors purchasing walking canes once owned by royalty or celebrities. According to Entertainment Weekly (August 25, 2006), the first thing Hugh Laurie did when he learned he'd won the lead role in House was go shopping for a cane. He found the perfect one in a little shop in London. It was made out of rare Malaysian wood and had beautiful ivory rings and a gorgeous horn handle. Although it was politically incorrect, it called to him and he knew it was “the one”. Unfortunately it was broken by a hydraulic door and a replica purchased. It was sold at auction for $8,300. The cane used during the second season was sold for $6,350.

Henry III, Louis XIII and President Washing collected canes. These days many are addicted. Many cane collections are passed down from generation to generation and along with it, in many cases, the collecting passion. The good news: one can start a collection of sticks easily and relatively inexpensively.

 

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