Cane collectors and dealers have much to think about when selecting a cane. There is form, age, quality and artistry, history, rarity, personal aesthetic, even utility. Like a painting, every cane tells a story; some serve a purpose or simply entertain. The careful selection that crossed the block at Tradewinds Auctions’ October 2 sale came with volumes of history. The objects and their stories drew a small but highly focused group of bidders, each of whom knew exactly what was wanted.
Tradewinds sales are casual and friendly affairs, civilized even, with a break in the action for lunch. Hank Taron and his late wife Nancy organized an International Cane Collectors Conference in 1993 at the Samoset Resort in Rockland, Maine. Hank mounted the all-cane auction at that event †just to see what would happen. Since the beginning, Rockland auctioneer Bruce Gamage has called the sale. Today, the Gamage input includes four generations and growing, who are active participants. The Tarons include Hank and his son, Chris, who is a highly respected scientist.
A collector in Spain buying by absentee bid paid $9,200 for a rare mahogany violin cane, a hard-to-find example. The tau handle unscrewed to reveal a chamber that contained a fitted mahogany horsehair bow with an ivory tip, a maple sound board and a maple bridge to raise the strings for play. Properly tuned, the cane will produce a good sound.
A Tiffany Art Nouveau sterling cane in the form of cartoonist Thomas Nast’s eagle brought $8,625 from an absentee bidder who is also a collector. The cane was a small eagle example, fewer of which were produced than the larger examples and was marked “M,” which was used by Tiffany between 1875 and 1891. A Tiffany sterling small eagle cane that sold at Tradewinds was accompanied by a letter from Tiffany to Nast presenting him with the cane that was inspired by his cartoon eagle. The cane was also inscribed with the name of the owner, one Arthur Carr.
A Tiffany cane with a sterling knob on a Malacca shaft that housed a small clock sold for $3,450. The knob, which was decorated with a foliate and scroll design, turned to wind the clock and set the time.
Remington small dog gun canes are relatively scarce. Tradewinds offered an example with a gutta percha handle in the form of a hound’s head that unscrews to allow the insertion of a .22 caliber shell. Made around 1870, it brought $6,325 from a Chicago buyer in the room.
A late Nineteenth Century gun cane with a handsomely carved elephant ivory ram with nickel mounts to enable it to be cocked and fired sold for $4,600. The cane, on a dark bamboo shaft, accommodates a 14 millimeter shell and is in working order. The cane was thought to be English and came from the collection of James Semones. It sold on the phone to a repeat bidder who paid $1,035 for a cane with an elephant ivory handle carved in the form of a bunny munching carrots.
A pepperbox gun cane curio on a shaft that appeared to be stained birch contained a revolver capable of firing six small caliber shells consecutively and a stiletto as backup. Catalog notes indicate that such canes were used to defend the bearer from attacks by vicious dogs. Markings suggest that the cane was Belgian, circa 1900, and it realized $3,450.
A French blowgun cane by Paris arms maker Dumonthier was made around 1880, sold on the phone for $3,220. The cane, on a Malacca shaft, was in working order and may have been used for target shooting.
A whale ivory cane in the form of a dolphin with black bead eyes and finely carved scales was made with a hollowed mouth to accommodate a cheroot when the user’s hands were required for other duties. The cane, on a dark snakewood shaft was probably Continental and came from the Semones collection. It sold in the room for $2,875.
An architect’s cane was made with an elephant ivory L-shaped handle over a brass shaft that opened to reveal a 3-foot folding brass rule, a drafting compass, a pencil and another device for tracing. Behind a glass window the label of T. Derringer of Paris and Berlin was visible. The cane was made around 1895 and brought $2,645 from a phone bidder.
A highly useful gadget cane was the fishing rod example with a 13-inch brass cylindrical container that opened to a fixed reel and beyond that a 65-inch telescoping wooden rod that was thought to be English, circa 1900. The cane fetched $2,185.
Practical and decorative, a staghorn handled cane on a stepped Malacca shaft concealed an 80-inch undertaker’s measure used to gauge the size of the required coffin. The circa 1880 cane was $1,495.
A French dark bamboo cane, circa 1900, with a silver knob handle that opens to a painted circular paper fan used to protect a lady’s complexion from the fire or the sun sold for $2,070.
An unusual pair of ivory canes with handles carved in the form of Harlequin and Columbine in the manner of German porcelain and decorated with inked flowers sold in the room for $4,888. The Harlequin figure was inlaid with six sapphire cabochons; the Columbine with six ruby cabochons, and the pair was thought to be early Twentieth Century English objects. They came from the Semones collection.
Depicting an eagle with yellow glass eyes, an elephant ivory and rosewood cane was made with a lever to roll the eyes and open the beak. The silver collar bore the London hallmarks for 1924 and it sold for $4,888.
Selling for $4,600 was an early Eighteenth Century English elephant ivory pique cane with elaborate silver pique tulip, scroll and cross decoration and a scalloped and punched collar that bore the date, 1705, and the indistinct owner’s name. The cane was made with eyelets rimmed with silver, a technique that catalog notes indicate that it is the first the Tarons have seen.
A beautifully carved nautical cane with a carved ivory monkey fist knob above a whalebone shaft with sawtooth carving, fluting and twist carving with string overlay sold for $4,313. It was thought to be English, from about 1860, and sold to a buyer in the room. Another nautical example, a mid-Nineteenth Century English cane with an ivory mushroom handle on a twist carved whalebone shaft with tortoiseshell spherules and separators, sold to an absentee bidder for $4,025.
A hardwood cane carved in the form of a dolphin on a coromandel shaft was accompanied by a tag describing its history: “Made by Pierce Brothers on board ship Two Brothers , given to father in his eightieth year.” One vessel Two Brothers sailed in the Eighteenth Century between Rotterdam, Scotland and Philadelphia, transporting German immigrants and cargo and was lost in 1754. Another vessel of the same name sailed between England and Prince Edward Island, Canada, in the Nineteenth Century. The circa 1850 cane sold for $2,070.
Hank Taron’s favorite in the sale was an Anglo Indian one-piece elephant ivory cane carved with a well-formed elephant handle resting on a branch above a 9½-inch carved floral element that sold on the phone for $3,450. Speaking after the sale, Taron said that figural animal canes from India are rare.
Taron said he believes there is an uptick in the market, and said the sale brought a higher gross with fewer lots. He also cited more absentee and telephone activity. He instituted an online Second Chance Auction after the sale and is offering the passed lots.
A holly wood head carved with a regal blackamoor prince with white glass eyes above a Malacca shaft sold for $3,565. It was thought to be an English work and dated from about 1890.
A cane with an elephant ivory was carved as a fierce hound and two lions on a twisted base with a silver collar above an ebony shaft. It sold for $2,300.
Bringing $2,070 from the phone was a Japanese Shibayama cane carved from elephant ivory with a monkey and a rat atop a simulated bamboo handle, with hardstone, coral and mother-of-pearl inlay and a tortoiseshell bird. The cane was probably made around 1890 and it was found and probably fashioned in England.
A historic American cane was inscribed on the silver knob handle, “Taken from a tree growing over the tomb of Washington.” The cane had square silver eyelets, was probably beech and was dated 1838. It sold below estimate at $1,495.
And for all those canes †an American walnut cane cabinet, circa 1880, from the Exhibition Showcase Co of Erie, Penn., brought $2,875. Glazed on all four sides, the device opened out in a fan-like fashion for display. It was made with a grid for 60 canes with corresponding holes in the base.
A smaller example was the German iron wall rack for canes or walking sticks made around 1910 with a separate iron tray designed to be mounted beneath the device to secure the cane tips. The German name and logo were indistinctly stamped and the lot sold for $920.
All prices quoted reflect the 15 percent buyer’s premium. For information, www.tradewindsantiques.com or 978-526-4085.