|Antique Canes and Walking Sticks|
The part of the cane in contact with the ground, covered by perhaps metal, bone, ivory or horn, protecting the shaft against deterioration and splitting, is called the ferrule. Although sticks were made without ferrules, it became quickly apparent that without a protective bottom to shield the object from puddles, deep mud, snow or the unpaved roads existing at the time, the cane would deteriorate rapidly. To offset this, the ferrule was developed.
The ferrule has also been called a finial. However, Francis H. Monek, in his book Canes through the Ages, clarifies, elaborating, “I have copies of many, many hundreds of patents on canes from the patent offices of England, Germany and the United States, and in not a single one of them is the bottom security device called a finial.” 1
Made for the most part of brass with an iron tip added for additional protection, ferrules were later made of precious metals, ivory, bone, and horn.
In general, the older the cane, the longer the ferrule. However, as time went on and roads were paved, ferrule length decreased.
Ferrules of 18th century walking sticks varied in length from 3-1/2” to 8”, and were made of brass and often decorated with simple lines or dots. Most of the ferrules were constructed of a tapering sleeve of brass, from which protruded a tip of iron.2
Long ferrules were still the rule during the first decade of the 19th century. However during the 3rd and 4th decades, there was a gradual decrease in ferrule length, ranging from as little as 2” to a maximum of approximately 4”. By the 4th decade of the 19th century, ferrule length had decreased considerably, were made mostly of brass, infrequently of iron, with silver plate and horn making an appearance at this time. Although horn ferrules became increasingly popular in later years, they never outnumbered those of metal. 3
The latter period of the 19th century through the early part of the 20th finds ferrules made mostly of metal, chiefly brass, usually plated at first with silver, later toward the end of the century with nickel or chrome. With mass production manufacturing, ferrules were of uniform size and shape.
of the ferrule
Before purchasing a stick that is being sold as “ all original,” do your homework and check for consistency—does the ferrule show wear? Is the wear consistent with how the stick would have been held? If the ferrule is an obvious replacement, what else has possibly been replaced?
Francis H., Canes through the Ages, P. 89.
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