On The Square

Unveiling the Elegance: Antique Canes Auction

By E. Jung

Sep 08,2023 | 09:00 EDT

Walking sticks, canes, staffs - these seemingly ordinary objects have a rich history of being both functional and fashionable. The upcoming Antique Canes Auction from Kimball Sterling, on September 16, is a journey into a world where craftsmanship, artistry, and historical significance merge. Let's explore some of the most notable lots that will be going under the gavel.

1. The Sword Cane: A Dashing Accessory with Hidden Power

Made circa 1875, topped with a two piece walrus handle with an  etched bulldog, is the Walrus Sword Cane [Lot 44] a perfect blend of style and self-defense. Sword canes, popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, often concealed a small blade within their elegant design. More minimalistic designs in the sale include the Presentation Sword Cane [Lot 54], Pike Defensive Sword Cane [Lot 105], and the simply titled Sword Cane [Lot 63]. These particular pieces represent the discreet charm of Victorian-era accessories, where fashion met function. Sword canes are a testament to the ingenuity of their time, serving as both a fashion statement and a means of personal protection. Special attention, however, must go to the Saw Cane [Lot 25], which is an extremely rare rendition of the concealed blade within a cane that has a less obvious use case than self-defense.


Walrus Sword Cane


2. The Carved Wooden Canes: Artistry in Every Detail

Several lots in the auction feature intricately carved wooden canes. The Folk Art Snake Cane [Lot 101], for instance, showcases a hand-carved serpent climbing the shaft of the cane, which demonstrates a whimsical, folk art-inspired design. Also bearing a carved snake motif is the Bamboo root kazoo cane [Lot 62] which has another intriguing feature: when blown into you hear the kazoo sound throughout the root and out the holes on the sides. These canes tell stories of the craftsmen who meticulously shaped them, often with incredible attention to detail. Cultural motifs as seen on the Mexican Folk Art Cane [Lot 108] and the Jacksonville Alligator Cane [Lot 88] indicate that some of these canes serve as historical artifacts, providing a glimpse into the culture and creativity of their era.


Folk Art Snake CaneFolk Art Snake Cane detail

3. The Presentation Canes: Tokens of Appreciation

Presentation canes were often given as tokens of appreciation or recognition. The Gold Quartz Dress Cane [Lot 92], an octagonal gold quartz stone handle set in gold with a presentation on the side and various other decoration, hardwood shaft and a horn ferrule made circa 1870, exemplifies the elegance and sentimentality of these pieces. Often adorned with inscriptions and ornate designs, they celebrated achievements or expressed gratitude. The Ohio Governor Presentation Cane [Lot 109] has engraved upon it "Presented Governor Judson Harmon by Licking County Democrats 1909", and the machined handle has been threaded so it can be removed from the thick ebony shaft. It was not common for this threading to happen except in very expensive gold canes. The owner would go to an event and instead of checking his cane he would only check the shaft and put the handle in his pocket to avoid theft. Owning a presentation cane is like holding a piece of history, a tangible reminder of the bonds and accomplishments of those who came before us.

Gold Quartz Dress CaneOhio Gold Governor Presentation Cane

4. The Decorative Handle Canes: Aesthetic Appeal

For collectors with an eye for aesthetics, the auction boasts a variety of decorative handle canes. Stag Snakes Cane [Lot 13] with an intricately designed handle, is a prime example. These canes, often made with materials like ivory, silver, or porcelain, highlight the craftsmanship and artistic sensibilities of their creators. Their handles, sometimes depicting animals, mythological figures, or botanical motifs, add a touch of whimsy and elegance to any collection. Some depict more risqué subjects, for example the Silver Nude Dress Cane [Lot 2], a circa 19th century art nouveau style silver nude dress cane in high relief of a woman lying exposed on her back and a man climbing up to her touching her hip and her knee.


Stag Snakes CaneSilver Nude Dress Cane

5. The Nautical Cane: A Seafaring Story

 A nautical-themed cane, Whalebone Nautical Cane [Lot 72] features a whale's tooth handle with a small abalone disc atop, three coconut spaces, and a hexagonal whalebone shaft. Made with materials accessible to sailors at the time these canes invite collectors to explore maritime history. Nautical canes like this one were cherished by sailors and maritime enthusiasts, serving as both practical walking aids and symbols of their love for the sea. They are a reminder of the adventures and challenges faced by seafarers of the past.

Whalebone Nautical Cane

Conclusion: A Unique Glimpse into the Past

The Antique Canes Auction by Kimball Sterling is not just a sale of beautiful objects; it's a window into history, craftsmanship, and individual stories. These canes, often overlooked in daily life, carry with them the echoes of times gone by. Whether you're a collector, historian, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of well-crafted objects, this auction is an opportunity to own a piece of the past. Each lot tells a unique story and offers a connection to the generations that came before us. Don't miss this chance to uncover the elegance and significance of antique canes.

Click here to view the full catalog of Kimball Sterling's sale of Antique Canes on September 16.
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Lot 44, Walrus Sword Cane
Lot 101, Folk Art Snake Cane
Lot 92, Gold Quartz Dress Cane
Lot 109, Ohio Governor Presentation Cane
Lot 13, Stag Snakes Cane 
Lot 2, Silver Nude Dress Cane 
Lot 72, Whalebone Nautical Cane