The Un-cane-y World of Canes

  • August 26, 2010 13:46

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This ivory-topped Doctor's Cane contains everything needed to make a house call.
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans
Rare tortoiseshell and yellow gold distinguish this decorative cane.
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

Canes and walking sticks, upon first mention, sound perhaps like the least interesting objects in the world to collect. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There was a time when no well-heeled gentleman or lady would have been seen in public without his or her walking stick. These often elegantly decorated sticks were not used to give support for walking, but were accessories that were actually “worn” and were, in many instances, symbols of status and wealth.

Many examples, especially those dated between the 19th and early 20th centuries, are made of materials such as gold, silver, tortoiseshell, ivory, enamel, porcelain and various precious and semi-precious stones, created by such notable firms including Meissen and Fabergé. These unassuming objects often hold the key to the history of their owners, and of the events occurring in the world at the time of their use. For instance, “shadow canes” at first glance appear to be simple sticks topped by handles formed of concentric rings. But, when light is cast upon them to reveal their shadow, they show a silhouette, usually of a controversial figure of the day. This Napoleon Shadow Cane was used by supporters of the Emperor to secretly show their allegiance to him during his infamous exile.

A flick of the wrist reveals the stiletto blade hidden within this bone and malacca "flicker" cane.
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

There are basically three categories of canes: decorative, system or gadget and weapon canes. What makes them fascinating is that there is a cane to match any and every interest. This gorgeous, decorative Fabergé Cane features elegant guilloché enamel, 14K gold and a sparkling rose-cut diamond set in the center. For the musically inspired, there is this incredibly rare Dulcimer and Flute Cane, a system cane with the two working instruments built directly into the shaft! For the more daring at heart, La Diabolique is as bold a weapon cane as it gets. This lethal cane was outlawed in France the day it was created. Protestors used these stealthy sticks during the tumultuous Revolution. If someone in the crowd were to attempt to grab the stick, the force of the pull would release tiny metal spikes along the length of the shaft, shredding the would-be attacker’s hand in an instant. A simple tap on the ground would conceal the true nature of this cane just as quickly.

As you can see, collecting antique canes and walking sticks presents limitless possibilities. And honestly, in all my years dealing with antiques, I am continuously surprised by the stories these absolutely mesmerizing artifacts have to tell.

To view choice selections from M.S. Rau’s collection of important canes and walking sticks, click here.


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Beauty, Rarity, History: The M.S. Rau Blog

Founded in 1912, M.S. Rau is one of North America’s most respected galleries supported by a team of experts who ensure each piece is vetted for quality and authenticity. A commitment to quality and beauty underpins each of the gallery’s acquisitions; it is a commitment that allows Rau to present only the most exceptional in fine art, antiques and jewels.

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