Introduction

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The Collector or rabologist:

Welcome to the collector here you can see the many walking sticks that I have collected over the years.

A walking stick is a device used by many people to facilitate balancing while walking.

Walking sticks come in many shapes and sizes, and can be sought by collectors. Some kinds of walking stick may be used by people with disabilities as a crutch. The walking stick has also historically been known to be used as a defensive or offensive weapon, and may conceal a knife or sword as in a sword stick.

Around the 17th or 18th century, a stout rigid stick took over from the sword as an essential part of the European gentleman’s wardrobe, used primarily as a walking stick. In addition to its value as a decorative accessory, it also continued to fulfil some of the function of the sword as a weapon.

Walking sticks, also known as trekking poles, pilgrim’s staffs, hiking poles or hiking sticks, are used by hikers for a wide variety of purposes: to clear spider webs, or part thick bushes or grass obscuring the trail; as a support when going uphill or a brake when going downhill; as a balance point when crossing streams, swamps or other rough terrain; to feel for obstacles in the path; to test mud and puddles for depth; and as a defense against wild animals. A walking stick can be improvised from nearby felled wood. More ornate sticks are made for avid hikers, and are often adorned with small trinkets or medallions depicting “conquered” territory. Wood walking sticks are used for outdoor sports, healthy upper body exercise and even club, department and family memorials. They can be individually handcrafted from a number of woods, and may be personalized in many ways for the owner.

A collector of walking sticks is termed a rabologist.

Categories of Sticks:

There are basically three types of walking sticks: decorative, folk art and system.

Decorative canes, as the name implies, were the cane as fashion accessory in its purest form. Unlike their system cane counterparts, their function was for the most part aesthetic. The variety of materials and forms of these decorative canes was limited only by the imagination of highly trained artisans and craftsmen. Ivory, gold, silver, porcelain, jewels, enamel and even glass were just a few of the materials employed in creating formal, decorative walking sticks.

Folk art canes, unlike their more formal counterparts, by definition were made by single, often untrained artisans. There purpose was to cast attention on the creator not the carrier; they were an expression of the artists skill and personality and can be distinguished from formal canes in various ways. The folk art cane is most often crafted completely of wood and is often highly carved from its handle to the bottom of its shaft. There is seldom a ferrule on folk art canes. And, while folk art canes are often less formal in appearance, they are nonetheless some of the most beautiful canes ever produced are are highly regarded among collectors.

System canes, or gadget canes as they are also known, are perhaps the most fascinating and highly collected type of walking sticks. This category of canes consists of those with a dual or hidden purpose, such as a sword, a whiskey flask and glass, or a walking stick carried by physicians containing scalpels and syringes. More than 1500 patents for gadget canes were applied for during the 18th and 19th centuries and were used in much the same way as we use a purse or wallet today.

The Anatomy of a Cane

Like any area of collecting there are certain related terms that bear explanation when discussing the anatomy of a cane. The first is the handle by which the cane is held and can be found in numerous shapes and forms and, as pointed out earlier, can be crafted from a host of different materials.

The main support of the cane comes from the shaft which is the long straight part of the cane and it too can be found made of a host of different materials. The wood used for the shaft of the cane often indicated its purpose. Elegant ebony or tortoiseshell shafts with gold or jewelled handles were most often intended for evening wear while lighter woods such as malacca, fruitwood, or bamboo were used during the day for less formal occasions. Make a note when buying canes, that ebony and ebonized are completely different. An ebony shaft means that the cane is made from ebony wood. The color will vary from deep black to dark red. Ebonized, on the other hand, indicates only that the shaft of the cane has been enamelled black or otherwise disguised to mimic ebony wood. Ebony, of course, is the most desirable, but many fine canes can be found wiht ebonized shafts at a lower price.

If the shaft and the handle are made of different materials, as is often the case with more formal or non-folk art canes, they are often held together by a band or collar which was used to hide the joint and to provide decorative accents to the cane. Earlier sticks dating prior to the mid-18th century usually had no collars and those following shortly after had thin collars. By the beginning of the 19th century, artisans began using the collar as an integral part of the cane’s overall decoration making them much wider and in many cases intricately chased and incised. The collar was often used for inscriptions on presentation canes and sterling and gold collars can often be found on many canes whose owners could not afford to have a larger handle made completely of precious metal.

You may notice a small eyelet drilled near the top of many canes and lined with metal or ivory. Wrist Cords were passed through these holes and could be worn around the wrist for easier carrying. Finally, the ferrule protects the tip of the cane and can often be used as a fairly accurate telltale of the age of your cane. Some ferrules are made of the same material as the handle, while most were simply made of some other durable material like hard metal. Earlier canes were made with a longer brass ferrule, sometimes 6 or 7 inches, in order to protect the cane from mud on unpaved roads. As more and more roads, especially those in the city, were blacktopped ferrules became progressively shorter. Most folk art canes do not have a ferrule.

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