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The answer can be found in historical reference relating to the Industrial Revolution and the core industrial production within towns and cities of England.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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Ivory / bone
Systems / Gadget Canes
By Date /Historical Period
New and Unusual
By Nation /Maker
Briggs – London
By Precious Metals
“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”
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.
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.
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.
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.