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Antique Canes at Auction

Susan Emerson Nutter | April 27th, 2013

The large elephant ivory handle of Bacchus and a maiden on this cane is 4" high and 2¼" at its widest point. The cane is 35¾" long overall, probably English, and circa 1880. The handle depicts Bacchus being given a goblet of wine by a nude maiden who holds onto his pointed ear for balance. Bacchus has horns and is covered in grapevines, leaves, and grapes. The full-bark malacca shaft ends with a 1 1/8" burnished brass ferrule. The cane is from the Vertical Art Collection®, and per the consignor, the proceeds are to benefit the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. It brought $10,925.

This English ivory piqué cane dated 1696 has a 3½" high x 1 1/3" wide elephant ivory knob handle that is intricately pierced in the piqué manner with tiny hollow dots. The top is decorated with two piqué circles and the owner initials “R B,” as well as “1696” around the rim. The sides are decorated in scrolls, blossoms, and lines on the raised central ivory portion, along with wrist cord holes that are rimmed with piqué. It has old patina, and all of the piqué work appears intact. There is a ¾" punch-decorated scalloped silver collar on a malacca shaft that ends with a 4¾" lined brass ferrule. The cane’s overall length is 36 1/3", and it brought $5175.

This circa 1885 silver-topped painter’s cane has a 1" high x 1 1/3" diameter silver knob handle decorated in a raised foliate design and a butterfly. The top is inscribed with raised Oriental characters, perhaps Japanese. The shaft is thick wood veneer stepped to simulate bamboo and ends with a ¾" thick brass and iron ferrule. Below the handle the piece can be separated by sliding out an attached long wooden palette. It has a finger hole, two pivoting panels for paint mixing, and small trays for storing paint of various colors. At the base, a small metal bottle with a cork for holding mixing medium can be unscrewed. By removing the ferrule, a supply of brushes can be accessed in a tubular container. The cane’s overall length is 34¾", and it sold for $2415.

This circa 1890 silver Masonic folding ball cane has a 3" high x 1½" diameter silver ball handle and a round, unmarked cartouche on top and is elaborately decorated in “C” scrolls as well as being marked “Sterling Silver” at the base. The ball is held together by four silver crosses with locking pins. When the crosses are folded back, the ball opens into six hinged pieces that form a large cross. The interior is gilded with a gold wash, and each piece is skillfully engraved with four different Masonic emblems. The shaft is ebony with a 1½" white metal and iron ferrule. The cane’s overall length is 36", and it brought $5750.

This circa 1870 narwhal and silver cane with a round silver cap handle measuring 1/3" high and 1¼" in diameter is unmarked on the smooth top and lined on the sides. The shaft is a one-piece polished narwhal tusk that tapers down to a 1¼" old worn iron ferrule. The tusk has the characteristic natural twist and a fine gray and creamy age patina. The overall length is 42¼". The narwhal tusk comes from one tooth in the narwhal’s mouth that elongates as the males mature, sometimes to lengths of over ten feet. The cane sold for $4600.

This gold tau cane with gold quartz has a large and heavily gold-layered tau handle that is 2 1/3" high x 4½" long, elaborately decorated in scrolls and blossoms and marked in a small shield with an “S,” for Simons Brothers, the famous 19th-century maker of gold and gold-filled canes from Philadelphia. The cartouche on top is inscribed for the owner, “D.M. Robb, 1905.” At the far end of the tau, a 1" x ¾" beveled gold quartz stone nicely flecked with polished raw gold on a white quartz background is set in a bezel. The shaft is malacca with a 1 1/8" horn ferrule. The cane’s overall length is 37 1/8", and it sold for $4140.

Tradewinds Antiques & Auctions, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts

Photos courtesy Tradewinds Antiques & Auctions

When asked about the success of his April 27 antique cane auction, Tradewinds Antiques & Auctions’ owner Henry Taron said with a grin, “It was a good one.” With final sales reaching $225,000, this one-day event did see strong sales especially where a half-dozen special walking sticks consigned from a well-known California collector, The Vertical Art Collection®, were concerned.

“Of course the best canes always sell the strongest,” Taron stated, “but we had a whole group of new collectors participating at this auction, and they were buying across the board.” Taron continues to see that social media is attracting a younger generation to his auctions and is very excited to see his buyer base expand.

“I am also seeing many more collectors buying at our sales that are not pure cane collectors, but who landed here because a cane has an aspect to it that makes it appealing as a crossover collectible,” Taron explained.

People who seek out dog-related items or those who collect items pertaining to wine, gardening, and even painting are finding additions to their collections at specialty auctions such as Tradewinds’ cane events. “History buffs can find some very interesting historical items at our cane auctions,” Taron added.

And while social media and concurrent live Internet bidding are helping younger collectors discover buying venues such as Tradewinds, these aspects also are making it so that buyers the world over can bid anywhere they find items they’d like to purchase. “We had registered bidders from across the country as well as Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Canada, the U.K. and Europe,” Taron said.

“Live on-line bidding is such a huge factor in this industry today, though I guess I would be called ‘old school,’” Taron said. “I am still partial to being able to see in person and actually touch items I would like to buy.”

Tradewinds also produces a full-color glossy catalog complete with extensive descriptions that many cane collectors acquire and keep as a reference tool. “Thanks to my son, our company’s Web site also includes lots of pictures and in-depth descriptions of the canes we have up for sale,” Taron added.

The cane garnering the top spot of this April 27 event was an elephant ivory cane whose 4" high handle was intricately carved with the image of Bacchus and a nude maiden. “The carving on this cane was exquisite,” Taron stated. This cane was taken to $10,925 (includes buyer’s premium). It came from the California collector, who requested that the proceeds from each of her sold canes go to a specific charity. The proceeds from the Bacchus cane will benefit the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.

Another wonderfully carved cane was an example with a handle carved to represent a full-bodied horse. “The amount of accuracy to do such fine carving is awe-inspiring,” Taron pointed out. This cane realized $4887.50, with the proceeds benefiting the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.

Two canes offered would have brought more, according to Taron, except for the fact that the handles were layered and not solid gold. A wonderful California gold quartz cane having a 7/8" faceted eight-sided gold quartz stone replete with flecks of polished raw gold set in a bezel on top stopped at $3105, while a nice gold tau cane with gold quartz realized $4140. The handle of this cane comprised gold layers, but it was also elaborately decorated in scrolls and blossoms, and it was marked in a small shield with an “S,” for Simons Brothers, a famous 19th-century maker of gold and gold-filled canes from Philadelphia.

Listening to Taron speak about the canes he sells is akin to being in the presence of a well-versed historian/lecturer. Lots that many might pass over have intriguing back stories. For example, selling for $1380 was the walking stick (and related book by Barbara Staples) of Dudley Foster (1877-1894), who was 23" tall but had a normally proportioned body. The circa 1880 small 20" long cane has a gold-filled handle inscribed “D. Foster from Dr. Warren.” Taron explained that Foster also had two tiny sisters known as the “Fairy Sisters,” who died before he was born. All three of them were taken throughout North America and Europe for viewing exhibitions and had songs written for them. Dudley became known as “Hop O’My Thumb,” was called “The Smallest Man in the World,” and traveled with P.T. Barnum and his circus. Staples, the author of the book that sold with the cane, was distantly related to Foster, and there are photos in the book showing Foster with this cane.

Curio canes—ones that exhibit other functions—are always popular. A silver-topped painter’s cane, with the silver knob decorated in a raised foliate and butterfly design, has a piece of the shaft that slides out to reveal a long wooden painter’s palette and a tray for storing paint. The painter’s cane made $2415.

A circa 1890 German Triumph cartridge gun curio cane had a horn and blackened metal L-shaped handle that unscrews from the cane’s metal collar to become a 9 mm handgun. The curio cane made $2415.

A rare “La Diabolique” cane curio used by rioters during the 19th-century Paris riots sold for $4025. When the black-painted metal shaft of this cane is given a straight pull, nine sharp spikes emerge. The idea was that as rioters swung their canes at the police, the police would grab the shaft to stop the pummeling only to have the palms of their hands shredded by the spikes that would emerge. “My son Chris and I can attest to the effectiveness of this cane,” Taron stated. Seems they both ended up with bloodied palms demonstrating how the cane worked.

Taron felt there were some great bargains on the lower end of the scale, and he noticed that new collectors were actively acquiring. “I really liked the diamond willow cane made by the Sioux Indians of the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota,” Taron said. This cane, which was a deal at $230, is crafted from a single piece of diamond willow—a name given to a type of willow that has an unusual diamond pattern caused by a naturally occurring fungus. “The craftsperson utilizes the raw diamonds and enhances them by shaping and staining, resulting in a wonderful look,” Taron stated.

Another great buy was a scarce Ronson cigarette lighter gadget cane that sold for $1725 (est. $3000/4000). It is inscribed “Club Hemphill, New Year’s Eve, 1930,” and it is thought that the cane was a gift given by Ronson to its top salesmen that year. “These are hard to find, especially with a working lighter,” Taron pointed out.

“And though I couldn’t prove it, I am sure that the all-whalebone nautical cane with inlay on the handle was sailor-made,” Taron said. “Collectors love canes that are known to have been sailor-made. Whoever won this example got a great cane.” The example Taron referred to was a 35" long nautical cane made only of whalebone with the top of the handle having a 1" inlaid round baleen disk that features a mother-of-pearl star with a small iridescent abalone dot at its center. Having a presale high estimate of $4000, the cane made $1725.

Advanced collectors singled out two canes, one that was expected and another that was a surprise. Any cane having a Masonic theme is sure to induce interest. If it also has some whimsy to it, all the better. Commanding $5750 was a silver Masonic folding ball cane with a silver ball handle that opens into a six-hinged piece that forms a large cross.

A surprise was a Japanese cloisonné cane featuring wisteria and birds. Estimated at $1000/1500, this decorative walking stick was taken to $4312.50. “The decorative work on the handle was superb,” Taron pointed out. The design included hanging gold and lavender wisteria blossoms, two songbirds, green bamboo, and small pink flowers.

It is hard to surprise Henry Taron. He and his wife, Nancy (now deceased), first discovered canes in 1980 and soon realized no one in the country was really specializing in this field. So they decided to do just that. Now in 2013, Tradewinds Auctions continues to bring together fine canes and offer them to the masses. “The market is not back up to what it was, but I am excited to see it is working its way in the right direction,” Taron added.

For more information, call (978) 526-4085 or check the Web site (

This circa 1900 Japanese cloisonné cane was fashioned primarily with a pale green background. The handle is 7½" long and 1½" across the domed top that is owner-initialed “D.M.” in red. The handle is decorated in festoons of hanging gold and lavender wisteria blossoms with two beautiful songbirds and green bamboo foliage extending down to a bed of small pink flowers. The ebony shaft has a 1" black horn ferrule. The overall length is 34 7/8", and the cane sold for $4312.50.

This is a Ronson cigarette lighter gadget cane. The crook malacca handle measures about 8½" along the arc and is 1¼" thick. Just below the handle there is a 4" x ¾" brass fitting that is inscribed “Club Hemphill, New Year’s Eve, 1930.” The cane may have been a gift/award at a New Year’s party, perhaps by Ronson to its top salesmen. The brass fitting is hinged with a small button-latch that opens to allow an attached Ronson cigarette lighter to emerge from within the shaft. The lighter is marked “Ronson De Light,” along with several patent numbers. The lighter has a flint, wick, and fluid, and works with a spring-driven arm to produce a flame. The piece ends with a 1¼" light horn ferrule. The cane’s overall length is 35¾", and it brought $1725.

This circa 1895 French brass fan cane stand is made entirely of burnished brass and stands on three 10" legs. There is a 48" high central bar that allows two 24" horizontal bars to be positioned with wing nuts. The top bar has ten round open rings to arrange the handles of the sticks, and the bottom bar has ten brass “cups” where the tips can rest, resulting in an open fan display. The stand sold for $2300.

This circa 1895 French brass fan cane stand is made entirely of burnished brass and stands on three 10" legs. There is a 48" high central bar that allows two 24" horizontal bars to be positioned with wing nuts. The top bar has ten round open rings to arrange the handles of the sticks, and the bottom bar has ten brass “cups” where the tips can rest, resulting in an open fan display. The stand sold for $2300.

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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