14th Earl of Westmorland, and the 7th Earl of Sefton, 1939. Photo via © National Portrait Gallery, London. 14th Earl of Westmorland, and the 7th Earl of Sefton, 1939. Photo via © National Portrait Gallery, London.

If you're into collecting, walking sticks could be a good way to go. Beautiful and handy alike, a cane could come to good use. The first thing you have to know is what constitutes a cane’s value, and, of what parts a cane exists of.
The handle can have very different looks depending on the canes purpose, and thus can be designed practically and functionally or delicately crafted for decorative purposes. The handle is, of course, the number one part of cane that can be mostly played around with and can be made out of precious metal, hardwood, ivory are various bones.

Very Decorative Ivory Pique Top Cane. Photo: Leland Little. Very Decorative Ivory Pique Top Cane. Photo: Leland Little.

Just below the handle is the cane’s collar – a ring of metal attaching the handle to the shaft.

The shaft is the stick itself and is often created out of wood. The more precious the mood, the more precious the cane. At the bottom of the stick, there’s a thing called the ferrule. The ferrule’s job is to protect the bottom of the wood, preventing it from splitting as well as from water and mud.

Nautical Cane, Narwhal Tusk. Photo: Leland Little. Nautical Cane, Narwhal Tusk. Photo: Leland Little.

System Canes v. Fashion Canes

As a required accessory, the fashionable member of society had a variety of canes suited to different activities and times of day. Canes actually used for walking or sport could be quite rustic. For the office, one carried a quiet, sober cane. But for evening and society functions, the more ornamental the cane, the better.

Salvador Dalí with cane. Photo via Pinterest. Salvador Dalí with cane. Photo via Pinterest.

Once canes became ubiquitous, it was only natural that the high demand would prompt canemakers to branch out in their design. "System" or "gadget" canes - canes that doubled as some kind of tool or gimmick - were born. Some system canes were genuinely useful, others more of a showpiece. As Leland Little Fashion Director Pam Briggs notes, "there were only so many times you could visit with the neighbors before you ran out of things to say. System canes gave you something to talk about."
Other system canes were indeed functional, but for tasks that belonged to a distinct segment of society. For instance, the picnic cane, with tiny fork and knife.

Dual Purpose System Cane for Picnic Goers. Photo: Leland Little. Dual Purpose System Cane for Picnic Goers. Photo: Leland Little.

Another is the wine-tasting cane, which carries its own flask and glass. During the 18th and 19th centuries, more than 1500 patents were filed for the design of system canes.

Wine Taster's System Cane. Photo: Leland Little. Wine Taster's System Cane. Photo: Leland Little.

At their most popular, canes came with their own rules and etiquette. In 18th century England, these rules were strict enough to be written into law. A gentleman needed a license to carry a cane in public, and was not permitted to carry it under his arm, hang it on a button, or brandish it, else it would be confiscated.

In France, canes were banned all together in public gatherings for fear they might conceal a weapon. This was apparently a well-founded suspicion, as weapon canes were often used by French rioters in the 19th century. Weapons canes were generally less decorative than their less sinister counterparts, so as not to draw too much attention.

Amedeo Modigliani, "L’Homme assis", 1918. Photo via Wikipedia. Amedeo Modigliani, "L’Homme assis", 1918. Photo via Wikipedia.

Whether as weapon, tool, or ornament, canes in their heyday were an invaluable way for men of the age to protect and proclaim their honor and status - both paramount personal assets. And for the modern imagination, canes are a wonderful way to open a window into the customs and curiosity of life in centuries past.

In the auction house Leland Little’s Important Fall Auction there will be 75 exquisite canes up for grabs, that range from elaborate "system" canes to delicate ladies' canes. The auction will be held on September 22.

Here, you can read more about the history of the walking stick.

Check out Leland Little’s entire range directly at Barnebys.

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