HAND ME DOWN MY WALKING CANE
Selection of canes offered in Tradewinds auction 4/25/98. Photo courtesy of Tradewinds
We don’t usually think much about canes or walking sticks, except when we’re hiking or when we can’t seem to get around without one. But canes have been around in one form or another for thousands of years.
Tutankhamen had a collection of golden canes. The French philosopher Voltaire had 75 in his wardrobe, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau owned more than 40.
During the 18th century, canes were as much a part of fashionable dress as snuff boxes and starched collars. Besides merely looking great on the arm, they also camouflaged weapons, musical instruments and even contraband.
“There’s something about walking into a home today and seeing a collection of canes in an umbrella stand,” says Henry Taron, cane expert, and partner along with wife Nancy in Tradewinds Auctions, Danvers, Mass.
The Tarons built their business on canes. “They’re a wonderful ice-breaker, and conversation piece. Plus, you can own an interesting collection for as little as $200-$400 a piece.”
In 1993, the Tarons held their first cane collecting conference. There was so much interest in the field they decided to schedule an auction, and have been conducting two sales a year ever since.
“American collectors are starting to get really serious,” says Nancy. “There’s a tendency for buyers to want to own every cane they see, which is not a good idea.”
The couple recommends people start slowly, be selective, and refine their taste. Tradewinds April 25, 1998, auction featured 192 canes and totaled $230,615. “It was our highest per lot sale so far,” says Nancy.
A finely polished agate decorative cane with 1½-inch ball handle, marked London 1891, sold for $467.50. An American folk art Masonic polychromed cane carved from a single thick piece of orange wood, dated 1906, brought $550.
A carved cane featuring a dog with bushy tail holding a banner with his mouth and one paw, probably American, sold for $247.50.
The top lot in the auction was a very rare 1890s gun cane. The handle, fashioned in a pistol grip was made of dark stained hardwood. The piece, designed to fire six shots in rapid succession brought $8,250.
Other top lots included a scarce 1875 Remington .32-caliber, large dog head gun cane. Seven inches down the shaft, the cane unscrewed so that a cartridge could be inserted. The piece realized $7,700.
“We set a record with this Remington cane,” says Henry. “The last one sold in our January 1996 auction for $6,700. About a thousand were made.” Because of the cost, it’s the type of cane that only a serious collector would buy.
When you’re hunting for canes, “don’t be fooled by glitz and glamour,” says Henry. “What we’re seeing now is well done, bogus pieces. For the novice collector it’s easy to get deceived.”
When you look for canes, pay attention to the shaft. Is it finely shaped? A quality wood like mahogany or ebony is also important. The handle on good canes will sometimes be ivory, silver or gold-filled over a harder metal.
If the cane is carved, how would you judge the quality of the carving? These distinctions make the difference between a $200 cane and $2,000 cane.
“Know what you’re buying,” says Nancy. “If you’re buying from a dealer, make sure you get a guarantee in writing saying if the piece isn’t what’s it alleged to be, you can return it.”
Q. I have what my father called a tall highboy birds-eye maple chest. There are two small drawers on top and four larger drawers on the bottom. Inside the drawer is written, varnished 12-7-00. It also has a removable oval mirror. Any information you can provide would be appreciated? M. Maloney, Pittsburgh.
A. What you have is a late-Victorian piece that was factory produced through the 1920s. The birds-eye maple is actually veneered (thin covering of maple over another wood).
Most of the Victorian woods were dark. So, this light maple became popular because it was a refreshing change. Not to mention the beauty of the wood itself.
Even though your chest was mass-produced, it remains very collectible today.
Value is based on condition, and would range from $300-$500.
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