It was rare to see gentlemen and even ladies without a walking stick or cane in the past. Unlike modern times when canes are typically Orthopedic Aids, they were fashion accessories and reflections of the culture from 1550 to 1930, often with handles made of jewels and precious materials.
These items were symbols of social stature, wealth, and power, and their beauty fascinated many collectors. One of the first things to do is to learn as much as possible about antique canes identification and price guide. Then, you can join the many stick and cane admirers.
The first canes from prehistory were probably tree branches, but their form and symbolism have dramatically evolved over time.
Nowadays, you can find ornate staff models created of stag horns or mammoth tusks with mythical symbols in museums. The first written cane’s mention was connected with murder in the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis since Cain killed his brother Abel with it.
In the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered 130 different walking sticks and canes used in the 14th century BC. Travelers living in the Middle Ages always took canes for protection when they went on pilgrimages or used them to hide money and other precious.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, extravagant canes became a status symbol. Only kings and nobility had the privilege to use them. However, other social classes started using these items in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The industrial revolution in the mid-19th century made cane production less expensive and faster, and the gadget cane was born.
Types of antique walking Cane
You can find a few different cane types, although it can be tricky to distinguish them in some cases. They were fashionable accessories from the mid-16th century to the 1930s for both ladies and gentlemen.
You can quickly recognize them based on their stylish artistic designs. Most antique decorative walking stick and cane models have a plain shaft decorated with the most precious materials.
Many owners personalized their pieces by carving people’s portraits, animal images, or geometric shapes on handles. In any case, their function was almost always aesthetic. Therefore, some precious pieces are inlaid with gemstones or topped with gold.
Collectible decorative antique canes you can find on the current market hail primarily from the 19th-century to the 1920s.
Canes with silver handle – Since these models were widely produced, you can quickly find them on the market. They come with elaborate crook handles or those with human or animal figures.
These models are an excellent option for novices, but you should be careful. In most cases, you can find a piece with a sterling silver-like handle that was actually made of other materials.
Canes with ivory handle – Cane artisans adored this material and created beautiful handles of various shapes.
Only the wealthiest society members could afford such rare and expensive canes, particularly those entirely carved of ivory. They are still highly desirable among collectors, particularly well-preserved pieces embellished with jewels or glass eyes.
Canes with gold handle – These priceless canes are among the rarest pieces because of the high price. More affordable ones are carved from inexpensive materials and ornate with gold collars.
Canes with porcelain handle – Makers like Meissen and Sèvres are well-known for elegant but fragile walking sticks with porcelain handles. These pieces are collectible thanks to their rarity and extraordinary beauty. It is challenging to find undamaged canes because delicate porcelain has often cracked over time.
Canes encrusted with jewels – Elite houses like Tiffany and Fabergé often produce expensive canes encrusted with jewels, including diamonds. Their price is rarely below $15,000, so only collectors with an unlimited budget can afford them.
Tiffany is famous for elegant gold handles combined with tortoiseshell shafts and ebony, while Fabergé prefers intricate enamel and diamond handles.
Canes with handles made of other materials – Manufacturers were highly imaginative when choosing materials for canes. Therefore, you can find pieces with handles made of:
- Hand-carved wood
- Ebony, snakewood, or Wedgwood
- Ivory, antler, or rhino horn
- Animal bone, whalebone, or tortoiseshell
- Animal horn or narwhal tusk
- Leather, snakeskin, or sharkskin
- Enamel, cloisonné, or Bakelite
- Porcelain or glass
- Brass or bronze
- Precious metals, like gold and silver
Once you decide to start a cane collection, you should be prepared for numerous variations available. Prices will depend on the cane rarity, used material, decoration type, and craft quality.
Pieces that combine a few materials, erotic canes, and those cast in sterling silver or carved from ivory are always costly. Even weird models like the bull’s penis cane covered with the phallic skin can reach high prices at auctions.
Folk art canes
Traditional folk canes were crafted out of a piece of carved wood with local iconography. It is always based on ornaments typical for the country they come from.
Artisans who made them were often untrained, but you can recognize their style, skill, and personal preferences. These canes are informal, beautiful, and highly collectible.
System (gadget) canes
These canes are probably the most fascinating and highly collectible because of hidden parts containing various gadgets. Believe it or not, you can find over 1,500 patents for gadget canes in the US alone, including:
- Gun canes
- Sword canes
- Musical, political, and doctor canes
- Compact canes
- Picnic canes
- Perfume canes
- Flask canes
- Microscope or scientific instrument canes
- Fishing pole or pipe canes
- Cigarette holder canes
- Barometer canes
- Vinaigrette canes
- Canes with horse measure
- Canes that converted into bicycles
Interestingly, collectors didn’t look for these canes after going out of fashion in the 1920s. They weren’t beautifully embellished, and many ended up as children’s toys, so it is challenging to find pieces without any flaws.
After being despised for decades, they are among the most expensive canes today. You can find four gadget cane categories based on their function.
1. Professional cane
Doctor’s cane – It is the most popular professional cane from the 18th to 19th century you can find on the market.
They feature the caduceus, the medical profession symbol, representing two snakes wrapped around a central stick. Doctors often used them as medicine bags for carrying syringes, surgical instruments, vinaigrettes, and medicines.
Mortician’s cane – Town’s morticians used these unusual canes during epidemics in the 18th and 19th centuries. They typically came with a simple design of a brass rod with measurement indicators for fast deceased measuring. Nowadays, they are scarce.
Tailors’ cane – Tailors often carried canes with a place for needles, thread, measuring tape, pincushion, thimble, and vials of decorative beads.
Ship captain’ and sailor’ canes – Ship captains sometimes used canes with hidden powerful telescopes, while lower-ranking sailors carried models with a place for cutlery or a knife.
Painter’s cane – These attractive bamboo canes with an ivory knob contained tools necessary for painting, like brushes, pencils, paints, rags, and a water canister. The practical cane shaft could become a portable easel in a few moves.
2. City cane
Those fashionable canes were outfitted with pocket watches, mother-of-pearl opera glasses, or an umbrella.
Whore house coin cane – These handsomely decorated canes were delicate and discrete city sticks with an elegant brass or leather crook handle. A gentleman who used prostitute services could discreetly dispense the exact amount of money from his fine cane.
Ladies’ cane – This cane type was convenient for Ladies carrying a fan, powder box, perfume bottle, atomizer, parasol, and embroidery needles and thread. Such a piece was always decorative with handles made of gold, sterling silver, carved ivory, porcelain, or enamel.
Outdoor cane – This category included canes convenient for outdoor activities. You can find picnic canes containing cutlery, corkscrews, chopsticks, shakers for salt and pepper, and so-called single-mechanism seat canes. Some models held fishing poles, maps, or a compass.
The most collectible is toppling (whiskey flask) canes with a compartment for a small stem glass or glass flask. You can find some excellent models created during Prohibition in the US.
3. Musical cane
The canes used as violins or wind instruments like flutes are a part of this category. They are pretty rare, customized, and typically one of a kind.
As you can guess, they are highly sought-after among collectors, and one violin cane with a bow placed inside the shaft was sold for an impressive $25,000.
4. Weapon cane
Weapons canes are sinister system models with concealed guns, daggers, swords, flails, spikes, and bludgeons. These models are always complex and skillfully crafted to hide deadly weapons that become accessible at the flick of the wrist.
The most famous French weapon cane, named La Terrible, was patented in 1883. It had a painted metal shaft with three sets of double razor blades.
With the other two similarly outfitted canes, La Redoutable and La Diabolique, this model was outlawed in France. Therefore, these highly collectible and costly canes are undoubtedly the rarest you can find.
Sword canes – They hid long blades in the shaft, and their value primarily depends on the blade quality and condition. The most famous are highly quality Wilkinson blades from England and Toledo from Spain.
Dagger canes – Those models with intricate embellishment come with shorter blade swords, better known as daggers.
Stiletto canes – These ingenious models contained entirely hidden blades without a visible break on the cane. A quick wrist flip ejected a sharp blade from the cane handle or ferrule, but you can also find those with a shaft that retracted and extracted as needed.
Gun canes – These models were used for self-defense, so they were never ornate or flashy. They typically have numerous firing mechanisms and are highly desirable among collectors nowadays. Those manufactured by Remington or Derringer are always the most pricey.
Antique Canes Price Guide
Nowadays, antique canes are popular among collectors more than ever. You can find numerous antique walking cane types in different conditions at a local antique store or online.
The crucial thing is to check their preservation level and possible connection to celebrities or significant historical events. Therefore, always look for engraved dates or names.
For instance, a walking stick that P.T. Barnum regularly used was sold for $150,000. American singing legend Johnny Cash used a handmade wooden cane with a carved snake and owl. It was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $78,000 in 2004.
However, most canes are worth significantly less, and their price depends on their beauty and uniqueness. An attractive decorative cane made of whale baleen in 1880 is estimated to be $700 to $1,000, while an antique gadget cane with eight impressive handles is worth up to $1,200.
The company name is often a reason for high prices. For example, a Howell Co. decorative model from 1900 reached $500 at auction, while one collector paid $400 for a Tiffany & Co sterling cane in 2019.
Approximate antique cane prices
|Ivory||37.25 to 38.5 inches (94.5 – 98 cm)||$65 to $5,175|
|Malacca||31 inches (79 cm)||$1,265|
|Wood||31 to 40 inches (79 cm – 1 m)||$45 to $2,415|
|Vine branch||32.5 inches (82.5 cm)||$1,555|
|Bamboo||32.5 (82.5 cm)||$65|
|Walking stick||33 to 40 inches (84 cm – 1 m)||$50 to $18,800|
|Horse hair||34 inches (86.5 cm)||$2,070|
|Enamel||35.5 inches (90 cm)||$1,725|
|Hardwood||35.5 to 36 inches (90 – 91.5 cm)||$260 to $865|
|Horn||35.5 to 37.5 inches (90 – 95 cm)||$33 to $230|
|Sword cane||36 to 39 inches (91.5 – 99 cm)||$550 to $1,725|
|Tortoiseshell||36 inches (91.5 cm)||$2,875|
|Glass||36 inches (91.5 cm)||$240|
|Red coral||36.5 inches (93 cm)||$2,070|
|Softwood||37.5 inches (95 cm)||$1,955|
|Ebony||38 inches (96.5 cm)||$1,725|
|Scalpel||38 inches (96.5 cm)||$750|
|Black horn||40 inches (1 m)||$575|
|Dagger||36 inches (91.5 cm) plus 16.5 inches (42 cm) long hidden blade||$110|
Remember that any dents, scratches, or modifications will lower the cane price. On the other hand, rare and unique models will always cost more. Thanks to numerous crucial details, the cane can be worth $5 or thousands of bucks.
Sometimes, Worthpoint.com can be helpful with a comprehensive database about antiques and an excellent price guide. You can also ask an antique dealer or expert from a local museum for an opinion before buying a particular cane.
Canes were a status symbol from the 17th to 19th century. You can recognize antique gadget canes, city sticks, and folk canes made of ivory, porcelain, precious metals, wood, gemstones, and other decorative materials. All are highly appreciated collectibles nowadays.