Antique Canes and Walking Sticks
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Unique Walking Canes

What makes a walking cane unique? Merriam-Webster defines unique as being the only one, being without a like or equal—unequaled, distinctively characteristic, peculiar and unusual.

From ancient history and on through the Crusades, Middle Ages, and 15th and 16th centuries, sticks were custom made and designed to fit the particular needs of the time: “At this time, it was a stout, strong stick about five feet high with a pointed metal spike at the bottom to dig into the earth on steep inclines and to fend off ferocious animals and dangerous brigands.”1 In seventeenth and eighteenth century England and on the continent, canes continued to be a requisite for the fashionably dressed, and a great deal of money was spent in collecting elaborately jeweled canes, adorned with precious stones and chased gold, and jewelers were kept very busy during this time creating unique pieces for those who could afford them. As demand continued to rise into the 19th century, craftsmen, jewelers and manufactures could hardly keep up. The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century brought tremendous change to the world and with the great demand for canes, technological development and advancement in tools and machinery, vast increases in production capabilities and reduced production costs, an industry was born. Less elaborate sticks became the norm by the end of the 19th century and thus the beautifully crafted and unique sticks created by world class artisans during an earlier time slowly vanished, a casualty of the new era.

Back to Merriam-Webster’s definition of unique, a variety of peculiar and unusual materials have been used to create both the shafts and handles of walking canes including kelp (a seaweed growing in shallower parts of the ocean), shagreen (shark skin), a variety of whale byproducts including whalebone, whale tooth, and baleen, shark, dolphin and boa vertebrae, sting ray tail, narwhal tusk, shafts made from almost anything that grows, and organic matter such as hide, bone, ivory from elephant tusks, walrus, hippopotamus teeth, phallic organs (bovine canes), and rhino horn have been used for centuries.

Scrimshaw and folk art walking canes are unique as each is original and therefore unlike any other, unequaled.

Gadget canes, also known as dual purpose or system sticks evolved out of necessity, all made by the first person requiring the particular device. Eventually they were patented; however, many were “homemade” but never found a market and not factory produced, making them unique.

Relic (memento) and souvenir walking canes are distinctively characteristic in that they are created from metal or wood removed from a location of historical significance one wished to remember. Wood from historical structures and raw materials from train or shipwrecks are included here. A more macabre example, sticks constructed by Civil War veterans from bone from limbs removed in combat. At times, relic sticks were sold as souvenirs.2

Presentation walking canes are unique in that they commemorate a particular event and were given and received in honor of that event.

References

  1. Canes Through The Ages, Monek, Francis H.
  2. Canes and Walking Sticks – A Stroll Through Time and Place, Snyder, Jeffrey B.
 

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