The Malacca Cane

Malacca Canes

There is something very special and unique, about a top grade Malacca cane. Nevertheless, the first questions must be, what is Malacca and where is a Malacca cane from.

A Malacca shaft is a member of the rattan family which holistically holds roughly 600 species. A slender woody type stem of an Asian rattan or maniala palm be it Calamus rotang, Calamus Ascipionum)  or  Calamus scipionum. Traditionally grown in the Malacca district of Malaysia.

 

Structure of Malacca

Internally, a Malacca shaft is fibrous rather than solid like wood or hollow like bamboo. The outer side of Malacca is defined as ‘skin’,‘bark’ or  ‘cuticle’  The  Malacca shaft  holds a more translucent silky huge and feel with no two shaft’s holding the same  colouration, diameter, length or structural straight length.

 

The bark of a Malacca is individual to each cane. Being from the rattan family the Malacca shaft holds growth ‘nodes’, ‘steps’ or ‘jumps’. The further apart these nodes were located, the more the Malacca shaft became desirable. In contrast, the closer the growth ‘nodes’ were, the lower the quality of the shaft and the need for adaptation.

Adapting Malacca

The modification to achieve the desired cane structure involved paring down the lower closely aligned Malacca nodes on the shaft. But this also took away the lower levels of the shaft bark. This is why you will see descriptions for a Malacca shaft full ‘bark,’ ‘half bark’ or ‘three quarter bark‘. Where the bark has been removed the area was sanded, filled and painted to achieve a near match to the remaining bark on the shaft.

 

Unfortunately, the primitive technique that was applied, caused many bared shafts over time to become worn and discoloured due to the loss of the protective bark. The increased porosity within the lower shaft area causing the paint to discolour and flake away. This has evolved into seeing variable amounts of quite shabby looking canes

 

The Malacca Backbone

There is a very unique characteristic in Malacca that will not be found in wood or other rattan species and that is the ‘backbone’,ridge’. ‘high ridge’ or ‘tear drop ridge’ This ridge can be seen or felt running down one side on a Malacca shaft. The premium quality cane will hold an easily visual distinguishable ridge from the top to bottom of the cane. The lower quality will go from three quarter to half way down the shaft. This may or may not be due to the paring of nodes and bark.

 

Quality Verses Availability

 

The naturally grown shafts of Malacca were graded from poor to excellent for the making of walking canes. Varying textual reports suggest that historically availability of pure excellent Malacca shafts would be no more than 2%. On penning these words, I must admit, I have only seen one that could easily be described as ‘excellent’!

 

The characteristics of king of king’s Malacca’s are that they are perfectly straight with no deviation along the shaft.  The bark or skin in existence from the top of the shaft to the bottom as the nodes are far enough apart to achieve the desired length The ridge or tear drop line from top to bottom and a colouration, and sheen that is magnificent be the pigmentation light blonde or through the scale to a deep rich red brown.

The price, for excellence of  a Malacca cane is to say the least, high and the reasoning, why predominantly only used in the premium walking canes. One must add at this point that a cane with a Malacca shaft was primarily used as a ‘day cane’ rather than a ‘dress cane’. The most recognized dress cane holding an ebony shaft.

Happy hunting for the Malacca excellence!

For further reading please look to the following texts:

Fascinating Walking Sticks by A.E.Boothroyd

Canes Through The Ages by Francis H. Monek,

Wood & Walking Sticks

 

 

Hardwood Crook Walking Stick
Hardwood Crook Walking Stick

There are a multitude of materials that were traditionally used in the manufacture  of  walking stick shafts-metal, bone, ivory marine ivory, leather, animal parts , rubber, horn, bamboo, cabbage stalks  and ultimately wood.

This write up will address the latter, wood.

Initially, before exploring woods that are used in traditional stick making.  Let us just touch, on the difference between ‘hardwood’ and ‘softwood’.  The basic premise being, that hardwoods hold fibres and vessels within their construct. Added to which hardwood is more likely to be heavy and invariably derived from a deciduous tree which in autumn sheds its leaves.

Softwood & Walking Sticks

In contrast, a soft wood is generally lighter in weight, less dense as there are no fibres or vessels. The plant source is an ever green or more commonly recognised as a fast growing member of the conifer family. Nevertheless, both hardwood and softwood has and still is  readily sought after for its individual properties.

Many will assume that only ‘hardwood’ is used for walking stick shafts. In part, this is true but where ‘pure’ novelty canes ( a cane not designed to be used as a walking stick but for display) were produced in the late Victorian period to early twentieth century, a softwood was  used within the manufacture. The rationale behind this type of cane being, a low production cost with a low end price tag for retailing, through the penny bazaars.

Softwood tippling gadget walking stick

These penny bazaars selling, the now highly collectable ‘drinks gadget cane’ prompting a tong in cheek link, to prohibition.A further example being the less common example – the ‘pen and ink gadget walking cane,. These unique gadget style walking canes manufactured in softwood and soft metal. Ultimately, these novelty canes were  an affordable gift for buyer or possibly for a family member or friend.

Softwood pen, pencil & ink gadget walking stick
Softwood pen, pencil & ink gadget walking stick

Hardwood & Walking Sticks

Hardwood is certainly the most favoured for the manufacture of canes. The reasoning being strength.  Modern canes tend to have cane shafts made from beech wood. The application of stain, paint or laminate to provide the desired visual result. There are very few  examples of rare woods being used in the current period of the 21st Century, unless for a bespoke walking cane.

Alternatively, if we turn our attention to the mid 20th Century there is evidence to suggest that ash, beech, fruit woods, mahogany and chestnut were popular.

Look further back to the Edwardian and  Victorian  period  and you will find the largest examples of more unusual hardwood species being used i.e snakewood, lignum vitae,walnut,satinwood, palmera, padauk, kingwood,ebony, mahogany and the list goes on For the less expensive walking canes ash or beech. For a light weight cane with strength, the demand for bamboo and Malacca appeared to increase rapidly from the Georgian period onwards.

Walking Sticks &  Economic Rise

Increased demand levels for the walking stick must take into account the rapid population increase through the impetus of the Industrial Revolution and free movement of labour.

The Georgians holding a walking stick as a walking aid or one may suggest a status symbol for wealth or status. The Victorians  love of Black Dress and/or Evening Dress goes hand in hand with black walking canes. With demand increasing during the Victorian period, the practice of ebonizing was used for cheaper or alternative hardwoods to give an ebony appearance.

 Ebonizing is not about throwing black paint to the wood.

It’s All In The Colour Black

There are two distinct types of ebonizing. The first group favouring the application of  specialised stains and finishes. The competing group following the premise to change the natural wood colour by tannin. Either way, through experience, you can pick a cane up and define, if the wood is ebony or not, by weight and grain density.

The Availability of Rare Woods

Unfortunately, through heavy demand for specialised hardwood during the Victorian and post Victorian period many beautiful examples of hardwood have been placed under the protection of CITES by restricting harvesting or banned for export. If you have time just view the following list:

www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/restricted-and-endangered-wood-species

 

Nevertheless, there are many old examples adorning a cane top on the market. Possibly many walking stick shaft will be needing a little TLC.  With every wood you come across, each  will exude their own special characteristics be it weight,feel,gain,colour and even smell.

Have a look at the following link -you might find it useful :http://www.exotichardwoodsukltd.com/Wood-Reference/

A good starting  text is :Wood: Identification and Use -Terry Porter- do a search on this text as prices do vary considerably

If you  are considering  investing a lot of time in wood identification then think about collecting small examples of wood, which can be purchased by a variety web sites targeted to  the pen maker. However, always take into account, a raw unfinished wood will hold minimal resemblance, to a polished piece.

 

 

 

There is a magical quality in the oldie walking sticks

VICTORIAN FRENCHIE CARVED DOG HEAD WALKING STICK

Many walking stick handle or pommel head studies of the Georgian & Victorian period have an interesting background. In part, an integral ingredient to understanding the social and industrial development of Britain

As a dog lover and a collector of dog head walking sticks, I have always admired, sadly never owned the French Bull dog or more commonly addressed as the ‘Frenchie’. A lovely ‘domestic companion’ dog breed.

Sporting Dogs V’s  Domestic Companion Dogs

If you love dogs as a walking stick collector you will love hand carved Victorian dog stick handles. Collectors will likely hold some superb hand carved French Bulldogs and similar Boston Terriers. The  carvings produced  in the Victorian period by  outsourced wood carves and then mounted by walking stick manufacturers.

The most popular dog head study of the later Georgian and early Victorian period was the ‘sporting’ dog. These dogs being the whippets or greyhounds. These dogs used in hunting and racing. This begs the question as to how a domestic companion dog like the French Bulldog became so popular as a walking stick mount.

The answer can be found in historical reference relating to the Industrial Revolution and the core industrial production within towns and cities of England. The link with the French Bulldog is Nottingham and the Lace making industry.

Frenchie  & Lace Making

The toy sized canine, that has DNA links to the bulldog, is suggested to have evolved through good and bad  British breeding. This little, good, compact  ratting dog found  favour with  the lace workers, of Nottingham.

Increased industrialisation throughout Europe aided  the free movement of labour. Many Lace makers emigrated to France to seek a higher income, taking with them, their loving companions, the little Frenchie.

The Opportunity for Stick Makers

It’s not surprising that this little breed of dog became popular throughout Europe and America. The high degree of popularity of the canine, suggest the reasoning why the walking stick makers adopted the Frenchie so readily. The dog carvings outsourced to wood carvers on piece work basis. On completion   returned to commercial stick manufactures,  to adorn many a walking stick shaft.

YOU WILL LOOK  at that that little Frenchie and Boston Terrier in a different light  the next time you cross paths!

The beautiful little frenchies
The beautiful little frenchies

THE SILVER ON A WALKING STICK OR WALKING CANE

Like or dislike of silver is subjective and will be dependent on how it is used and what the finished product looks like.  However, many items of silver are collected on the basis of the creator-the silversmith.

For centuries silversmiths have created works or art with silver. Complicated uses of silver to embellish the shaft or cleverly manipulated the metal to crisply blend the joining of the handle to the shaft. Silversmiths have to be applauded for their near magical skill.

 

Properties of Silver

Silver is a precious metal which is harder than gold, but still relatively soft to other precious metals.  A metal that is a better electrical conductor than copper, but its high cost makes it less attractive for electrical wiring. Silver is a metal that dependant on purity, in addition it is strong, malleable and ductile. A precious metal that can endure extreme temperature ranges and has the advantage of being able to reflect light to a high degree. The list of silver properties are endless and worth your time to explore.

Grades of Silver

British silver arrives in a range of distinctive grades. Firstly, ’fine silver’ or 99.9%. This is a soft metal that tends to be used in the bullion bars for international commodities, trading and investment. Although not prone to tarnishing this grade is too fragile a grade of silver for the application within the manufacture of a walking stick.

The second grade is’ Britannia silver’. This grade of silver is much softer than sterling silver at 95.83%.wiith the hallmark of 958.  Again, this a grade of silver that is generally too soft to be applied as a decorative metal applied to walking sticks.

The third Silver graded  as 925 or sterling silver, This is the  grade  commonly used to embellish walking canes .  Sterling silver  is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5 per cent copper or other metals. The existence of copper and other metals will induce the tarnish when exposed to the atmosphere but does have the advantage of increasing the strength of the metal.

Silver hallmarks used on British silver
Silver hallmarks used on British silver

Cleaning Silver

Where tarnish is present on the metal, inevitably there becomes the need for the individual to get out the polish.  However, too much or too regular polishing will wear away the surface of silver.  In addition, the grease, salts and friction of a hand on a walking stick handle on a regular basis, will induce wear to the metal. This explains why the detail on old silver walking stick handles or assay punches become worn and indistinguishable over time.

 

 Standardisation of Silver

We are extremely lucky having a standardised control mechanism for silver within the UK. This guardianship and control held with the powers and provision of the Assay Offices located throughout the country:

  • Birmingham Assay Office-
  • Edinburgh Assay Office
  • London Assay Office
  • Sheffield Assay Office
Assay House Punch Marks Used Within Britain
Assay House Punch Marks Used Within Britain

Current Irish Assay Office

  • Dublin Assay Office

 

Theoretically, for silver to be regarded as authentic then the item should hold the relevant Hallmarks. These marks include the Assay Office that has issued the marks. Secondly, the date mark which indicates when the item was stamped by the Assay office not when the item was manufactured. The third punch will define the metal and the purity.

Sample date letter from Birmingham Assay Office
Sample date letter from Birmingham Assay Office
Silver hallmarks used on British silver
Silver hallmarks used on British silver

Makers/Sponsors Punch

The final stamp May or not be present. The Assay office define this final stamp as the ‘sponsors’ punch.  A means to identify the maker  and or origin of the item.  For the premium silversmith, this is marketing tool to differentiate their creations in order the avid followers buy.  Hence a cane with the Howell makers punch will not only be sought by the general cane collector but by the collector of specific silver embellished canes holding the ‘Howell’ stamp.

Howell Punch used on walking stick collars
Howell Punch used on walking stick collars
The well known Liberty makers punch used on silver items
The well known Liberty makers punch used on silver items

To Assay or Not

However, although we have one of the best means of controlling the quality of silver being sold and manufactured, silver does not need to be hallmarked under 7.78 grams.

Nevertheless, over the decades there are many items in excess of the 7.78g weight in the market place that are not hallmarked. The reasoning for this in part is simple.  Order a bespoke item from an individual stick maker and require a silver collar then there is a high possibility that the cane may not be hallmarked.  The buyer may not be prepared, or have the time to wait for the stick maker to contact a silversmith to make and further organise the hallmarking, nor be prepared to pay a further amount for the process.  Achieving a hallmark on an item does incur a range of costs.

 

A further view is given  in an article written by Roland Arkell for the Antiques Gazette, stating:” For many reasons town silversmiths in Ireland and Scotland seldom sent their plate to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dublin to be assayed.  Here, often for reasons of security and economy, it was prudent to operate outside the jurisdiction of the metropolitan assay houses of Dublin and Edinburgh.

Instead, they stamped the silver themselves with a maker’s mark, a town mark or combinations of these and other marks.” (1)

Provincial precious metal stamping
Provincial precious metal stamping

Silver & White Metal

Legally, silver above the 7.78g weight, cannot be sold as silver but must be described as ‘white metal’.  Possibly, a collector with a beautiful cane with a ‘white metal’ silver embellishment would decide to visit the nearest Assay Office and have the unmarked silver, on a walking stick Hallmarked. The stark reality is, that to do so would possibly reduce the value of the walking stick as assay stamps are not retrospect.  Imagine, a beautiful Georgian walking cane holding a silver collar bearing the hallmarks for 2018!

Silver is a very large field to explore but is one of the most fascinating.  If you have five minutes, sit at the computer with a cup of coffee then explore the field, you will be surprised with what you can find.

 

Hallmarked silveron walking stick
Understanding silver and the properties of silver on walking sticks

Developing A Walking Stick Collection

People collect all sorts of things be it buttons, napkins, spoons, antiques, cars…… So collecting walking sticks is not unusual, and in the long term may prove to be a good investment if the right sticks, have been bought.

No one can say, you must only collect a certain type of walking stick, after all a collection is a personal choice. However, to make collecting a little simpler one could start by having the collection based on ‘the unusual’.

Wow!!! that is going to be a really big collection of walking sticks. The solution then would be to think a little narrower in your collection objectives.

By material
Glass
Ivory / bone
Scrimshaw Canes
Wood
Metal

By design
Animal head
Horse Heads
Systems / Gadget Canes
Country Sticks
Folk Canes
Swagger Sticks
Military
Sword Sticks

By Date /Historical Period
Georgian
Victorian
Edwardian
New and Unusual

By Nation /Maker
Briggs – London

By Precious Metals
Silver
Gold

By Celebrity
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/4094299.stm

“A cane twirled by silent film star Charlie Chaplin in movie Modern Times has been sold for £47,800 ($92,000) to a private US buyer at a London auction”

Factors affecting
Price

The price of a walking stick can start at a few pound to thousand of pounds, depending on the age, rarity of the cane, maker etc. In your collection objectives you have to determine what you are willing to pay for a stick and the monetary or aesthetic value, it will add to your collection in the longer term. Like any collection, many low quality canes will hold much less value, than one good quality walking stick.

Availability

More and more people are collecting walking sticks, and once a stick enters a collection it may be decades before it returns to the open market. Hence, good quality sticks are becoming more difficult to find. But depending on what you are looking for, there is sure to be something if you search. With the internet it is a global market for you to investigate.

Quality

A good collection can arrive in every price band. However, it is best to obtain a stick, that is not totally battered, split or broken unless you are prepared to undertake or pay for the restoration.

Restoration can work out to be very expensive and may not add much value, to the stick, if the design is common or low value. Some walking sticks are just beyond repair so avoid and keep your money for a walking stick that is in good condition.

However, do not forget old collector’s walking sticks should not be as new. There should be evidence of wear and tear, wear on the shaft, worn or replaced ferrules will show the stick holds a history and not a reproduction.

Homework

A good collection is based in part on doing your homework and getting to grips with the differing styles/ periods of walking sticks. For example if you are collecting silver walking sticks learn about silver and hallmarks. If you are collecting ivory canes, work to recognising different types of ivory and the age of ivory. As your knowledge grows you will be able to identify a good original walking cane against a poor and possibly reproduction, that has far less value or historical interest to add your collection.

These brief points, should help you on your way to collecting walking sticks or any other collection . Ultimately, have fun and enjoy the collecting process.

So are you ready to start collecting?