Antique Canes and Walking Sticks
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Sword Canes

Sword canes are canes that contain a concealed blade within a hollow shaft. There are a great variety of sword canes, not only reflecting as other sticks defining style features of a particular time period, but also in the decoration, quality and style of their blades and their mechanisms and manners of disguise.

The average sword canes are simply a pull out, where one holds the handle in one hand and shaft in the other and pulls, sliding out the blade. Others have a locking device requiring the pushing of a button that presses down on a catch and releases the blade when pulled outward. The finest mechanism of release have a cam device holding it locked, where one must twist the handle a half turn to the right and a cam rolls over a spring catch and releases the blade when pulled. Upon replacing the blade, one must turn the handle a half turn counterclockwise, securely locking the blade. Variations of this locking device are also seen.

Sword Cane

Blades may be simple, four-sided foil blades, which remained relatively unchanged over the passage of time, or etched, engraved, blued and gilt, finely ornamented examples of the cutler’s art.

The first sword canes were made for nobility by leading sword cutlers, but not so for pilgrims who, lacking royal blood, were not given this right. 16th century sword canes were often bequeathed in wills. With a French ordinance issued in 1661-1666 forbidding carrying such “blades in sticks,” one can assume by that time that sword canes were well into fashion. Though swords disappeared with the rise of the propertied class or bourgeoisie and were used only by the military, sword canes remained and even became more popular as the streets became less safe. Society dictated it mandatory that gentlemen of the 18th and especially 19th centuries would wear a cane when out and about, and it was common for the well-dressed gentleman to own and sport canes in a variety of styles, including a good sword cane.

Prior to mass production in the second half of the 19th century, sword canes were the handicrafts of sword cutlers who often worked with other artisans to finish the handle in ivory, silver or gold. In the second half of the 19th century, blades were manufactured and marked most frequently by leading companies in Toledo Spain, Solingen Germany, Wilkinson England, and Klingenthal France and St.-Etienne France, to name the most important. Except for St.-Etienne, these factories produced only the blades, which were later expertly mounted in canes by local artisans, which was a delicate job.

It is very rare to find an American blade mounted as a sword stick. Most sword canes found in the United States have blades marked Toledo, Solingen or otherwise, possibly because it was not the custom for American manufacturers to sign their blades as was the norm in Europe. It is more likely that these sticks are made up of an American shaft and an imported blade.

Sections of main types of blades of sword canes
The foils of early and mid-19th century were rather flat, rectangular in section, and those of the late 19th and early 20th century were nearly square. Other types include single edged, oval/double edged, flat hexagon/double edged, diamond, triangle and small sword, sometimes referred to as rapier, although the true rapier blade is double-edged.

It must be remembered that blades were articles of international trade and the national origin of a blade found in a sword cane is not necessarily an indication that the entire cane originated there. Also, the names of blade-making centers remained unchanged and their names do not necessarily indicate a date. An important clue to dating can be found in its decoration, if not ruined by rust, cleaning and polishing. Decoration was usually lavished upon the fine blades such as the double-edged or single edged blades of the more elegant canes and the triangular blades of the fine 18th century sticks. Most of these blades were blued and bore gilt decorations and engravings of floral sprays and military or musical themes. As a general rule of thumb, when the blued portion of a blade, which usually extends only along the upper third of its length, ends in a straight line across the blade, it may be assumed that it is of an early period, generally before 1820. If the bluing ends in a decorative scroll, the cane most likely dates from after approximately 1820 to past the middle of the 19th century. After this period, the better blades were decorated in bright designs often without bluing, or they were blued and gilt in highly ornate patterns, reflecting the tastes of the second half of the century and beyond.1
Sword canes, as others, are frequently of bamboo, as this naturally hollow material provided great ease of manufacture. Not infrequently, wooden shafts were even carved to resemble bamboo. The finest sword canes are of Malacca, but a variety of other woods have been used.

The most sought after sword canes have the longest blades. However, beautiful and well-crafted dagger canes are also much sought after. Dagger blades are shorter than sword canes, and the steel was often intricately designed to make wounds hard to heal. Stilettos and flick sticks are shorter still, and can be activated when pressed against something or someone, or snapped out with the flick of the wrist.

Care must be taken before accepting a short blade as an original dagger as when a long blade broke, it was oftentimes reshaped or re-pointed, making it appear to be a dagger cane. In order to test for this, insert a long, stiff wire into the scabbard portion of the suspect cane. If a full-length scabbard is found to sheath a short blade, the latter can be assumed to be a remnant of what was once a long blade.2

1&2. Stein, Kurt, Canes and Walking Sticks.
3. Dike, Catherine, Cane Curiosa.
4. Monek, Francis, Canes through the Ages.
5. Dike, Catherine, Canes in the United States.

Sword Canes

 

Flick stick open blade with mechanism

Flick stick cane


 

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