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Antique Collectible

Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Selection of canes offered at International Cane Collectors Conference auction 10/23/93. Photo courtesy of Tradewinds
Even King Tut owned a collection of canes. The pharaoh’s golden canes served as a symbol of his royal office. Around for thousands of years, people used them to clear rocky terrain and guard against thugs.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, canes were as much a part of stylish male attire as neckties are today. The philosopher, Voltaire, owned more than 75. His compatriot Jean-Jacques Rousseau flaunted more than 40.

Not always what they appear to be, craftsmen disguised weapons, musical instruments, tools, tobacco, umbrellas, contraband and a host of other objects within their slender exteriors.

An Oct. 23, 1993, cane auction captured the attention of collectors in Rockport, Maine recently. The auction, sponsored by the International Cane Collectors Society grossed about $140,000, and 115 bidders competed for the canes. The bidders were described as reserved and polite with the gentlemanly spirit of someone who would carry a walking cane.

The top selling lot brought $9,900. It was a rare violin cane, probably German, circa 1850. Made of beechwood with nickel ring mounts, it was a working violin.

"There are pictures of (musician) Jascha Heifetz playing such a cane, perhaps as a whim, but nonetheless, they were instruments, they weren't toys," says auction manager and collector Henry Taron. "They had everything that was needed to be a good violin: a soundboard, a key to tune the strings, and a high quality bow."

Another novelty cane that played in harmony to the tune of $3,410 was an American-made field microscope cane. "They made those kinds of things for an entomologist to go into the field and gather specimens, and look at them on slides," Taron explained.

The average cane in the auction hammered down at $800, demonstrating that a big pocketbook is not a prerequisite for playing in this arena.

Unfortunately, little is known about the craftsmen who made many antique canes. Few artisans marked their work, yet sometimes the style itself may reveal the origin. The details of a cane’s design can provide clues to dating a piece.

Age, rarity and quality of workmanship are keys in establishing value. Folk art canes are valuable because of their crude workmanship. Gadget canes, (canes with objects inside) are often more desirable for what lies hidden within them.

Kurt Stein has written an informative book on the history, “Canes and Walking Sticks,” published by Liberty Cap Books.

For information on the International Cane Collectors Society contact Henry Taron, 24 Magnolia Ave., Manchester-By-The-Sea, Maine 01944-1606.

Q. I have an off-white plastic case table radio. It is coin operated but the coin compartment is missing. The radio plays well and is in good condition. An RCA patent model # HR105A is attached. How valuable? W.R Pittsburgh.

A. RCA was the leading manufacturer of radios in the 1920's. The choicest radios are those containing all their original parts in working order.

There are no rules for valuing old radios. They are worth what the buyer is willing to pay for one. Your radio sounds unusual. I suspect from the description it is worth $50-$100.

The majority of collectible radios date from the beginning of commercial broadcasting, on Nov. 2, 1920, when local radio station KDKA went on the air here in Pittsburgh. The first broadcast carried news of President Warren Harding's election.

Radios from the 1920s and early-1930s are desirable among many collectors. The cutoff point for enthusiasts comes with the invention of the transistor in 1947. This is when radios we are familiar with today came into being.

The wide use of television after World War II robbed radio of its audience, and the invention of the transistor earmarked a technology change in the field. Few radios after this period are collectible. These two events changed the course of radio history forever.

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