The Popularity of Canes
Tommy Lees Jones as Thaddeus
with cane in Lincoln
We were reminded of the beauty of canes when watching the movie Lincoln where Thaddeus Steven’s (Tommy Lee Jones) is shown with a carved greyhound cane. Alas, there is no evidence of Mr. Stevens using or owning a greyhound cane. There are photos of him with a standard curved handle cane and with a silver handled cane from Gettysburg but not with a fancy carved cane. However, a carved greyhound cane would have been appropriate in that timeframe and it made for great theatrics as the head of the dog surveyed the House.
The history of the cane and the staff goes back to biblical times, and over the years canes have been used as religious and magical symbols, and as signs of authority or power. In more modern times, even up to the present, avidly collected canes have had handles made by Faberge and Tiffany, as well as those of elegantly carved ivory, jewel-inlaid wood, and intricately fashioned silver. The range of so-called systems canes is likewise very wide: there are ones that were hollowed to hold alcoholic beverages and substances such as tobacco, and ones that contained tools, gadgets of all sorts, and even musical instruments. There is, as well, a large category of canes as weapons.
Canes or walking sticks were very popular in the nineteenth century. They were not only used by the elderly and infirmed but they were the height of fashion for gentlemen. In November 1877, the New York Times indicated there were at least 15 million Americans carrying canes. In the United States, the popularity of decorated canes continued, reaching its peak at the end of the 1800s, but walking sticks continued to be used, although less frequently, until World War II.
Collectionn Courtesy of Lyn Andeen
A cane might be a walnut stick with a silver-plated handle or an ebony shaft with a custom made gold handle. A carved and painted cane could be considered folk art if it was made by a self-taught or nonacademic artist. Determining if a cane is American can be based on the type of wood, symbols (such as a flag), a proven provenance, or even the style of the carving. Canes were made in all fifty states. A cane can have decoration just on the handle or on the stick itself or both – so the cane could be seen as having a sculpture on it or may itself be a sculpture.
Many collectors look for canes with intricate and elaborate carvings, specifically on the handle. Less common are canes with carvings up and down the shaft. Add paint decoration to a cane and the rarity goes up even more. However, canes with missing pieces, split wood, repainted or too fragile are less valuable.
Check out the beauty of antique folk art canes other walking sticks on Dig Antiques.
- American Folk Art Canes: Personal Sculpture, George H. Meyer, University of Washington Press, 1992.
- Walking Sticks and Canes, AmesGallery.com.
- Fantastic Folk Art Walking Sticks, Salon, Saturday January 14, 2012.
- More than Walking Sticks Cane Collection features faces and folk art, The Baltimore Sun, June 1, 1993.
- The History of Hand-Carved Walking Canes, ezinearticles.com.
Out with the Old
Written by Guest Columnist: Lyn Andeen
With the ringing in of 2013 one might be tempted to invoke the old saying "Out with the old in with the new. Not so for us country antique lovers. For us it’s in with more old… and the older the better.
In this disposable society it is refreshing that our breed of person values old things above all others. We treasure the patina from years of use. We look for good wear. Original surface reigns supreme. Above all, we love the history that a treasure holds.
Too many today are caught up in the disposable way of life. With computers, phones and electronics becoming obsolete almost as soon as we get them, the tendency is to covet the next new thing.
I am happy to report that "antiquers" are the exception. Although we are guilty of following trends in the "what's hot" to collect sense. Today stoneware may be hot and next year it might be quilts again. Those die hard collectors are not so fickle.
I am pleased to be part of this group that still values old things. I would love to see more adopting this way of thinking.
About Lyn Andeen
Lyn Andeen has been an avid collector and dealer for the past 28 years. She has been in group shops, setup at countless antique shows and has a true artistic eye. Lyn's passion is for quality 18th through early 20th century Americana, decorative arts, Shaker and folk art. You can find Lyn online through Andeen Antiques.
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