Published: May 22, 2001
By Bob Jackman
DANVERS, MASS. – On April 28, Tradewinds Antiques of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. conducted a highly successful cane auction that attracted a national audience. Offerings spanned all categories of canes and were of consistently fine quality and condition.
The top lot was a Remington gun cane with a ball and claw handle that triggered bidding to $16,240. The auctioneer was Bruce Gammage of Rockland, Me. All 202 lots sold, and total sales of $365,120 established a new record for a Tradewinds auction.
Overview Of Tradewinds
Nancy and Henry Taron founded Tradewinds Antiques as a firm specializing in canes. In 1993 they presented their first cane auction, and became the first American firm to offer a series of specialized cane auctions. They contracted with auctioneer Bruce Gammage to call the auction, and Mr Gammage has recruited most of the auction day staff. At the initial auctions most bidding was within the auction hall, but that has now been augmented by absentee and phone bidding across the nation and in Europe.
Several years ago Nancy Taron perished in a car accident. Henry Taron now continues the business by himself, and at auctions he is assisted by his son Chris and daughter-in-law Barbara. Bruce Gammage continues calling the live auctions.
Collector Lewis Cabot commented, “Mr Taron is the dean of American cane auctioneers and dealers. It used to be that cane prices were much higher in Europe because they had a better-developed market. In America, there used to be eight or ten people who sold canes, but they also sold other things. The Tarons created a sharper focus, and now the market has become more visible and specialized. Prices in the American market are now comparable to those in Europe.”
The auction was conducted with a distinctive refinement and humanity. As a lot was brought to the block, Bruce Gammage provided an introduction, and then Henry Taron mentioned a few of the cane’s special features. Then Bruce auctioned the lot. There is a 15-minute break at the midpoint of the auction. There are also antics. For example, Henry Taron paused to demonstrate the functioning of a hearing aid cane, and later when a harmonica cane went to the block Bruce Gammage played a stanza of “Old Susanna.”
The firm has conducted 17 auctions, and all have focused specifically on canes and related materials. Tradewinds conducts both live and online auctions. The firm’s next auction will be an online auction in late June. The company’s Web site is www.tradewindsantiques.com. The firm’s next live auction will be September 29.
Gun and other Gadget Canes
Top lot was a Remington gun cane that sold for $16,240 to a phone bidder. It shattered the previous record for a Remington gun cane by over $6,000. Henry Taron commented, “I knew it would be a record. I have only seen one other Remington ball and claw cane of this design, and this example is in better condition. Apparently it had been hardly used, if at all. We set the previous record for a Remington gun cane at auction last year when we sold a dog head cane. However the ball and claw cane is more rare, and it pushed the market to a new high.” Two other gun canes in the auction were a Remington gun cane with a small dog head handle that brought $6,160, and a French pepperbox gun cane that reached $5,880.
Two other types of gadget canes that did particularly well were a Ronson pop out cigarette lighter that brought $5,320 and a flute cane by Hamig of Vienna that danced to $5,040.
Presentation canes were aggressively bid since these were often produced with the finest materials and craftsmanship. Three popular makers were Unger Brothers, Tiffany, and Gorham. Unger Brothers produced a small number of canes, and in this auction a silver cane with a Native American figure sold for $3,696. Henry Taron commented, “Gorham canes are increasingly popular. Some of their designs are as good as Tiffany, but for right now they are more affordable.” Two examples both sold under $1,100.
At $14,000 the most successful Tiffany cane contained two segments of the original Atlantic cable bound by silver mounts. Tiffany purchased all used segments of the original Atlantic cable and created commemorative novelties that incorporated cable. Most members of the audience believed the example at auction was unique. However one collector commented, “I bought one of those about ten years ago for about $100, and I still have it.”
The most important auction discovery related to the origin of the design of silver eagle heads used on some Tiffany canes. The eagle canes are found with two different size heads, and a shorter head version (2 2/3 inches) sold at this auction for $7,840. An historical insight came from a lot containing 1884 correspondence that sold for $3,024. That correspondence was between Tiffany and satirical cartoonist Thomas Nast of Morristown, N.J. Tiffany sent Nast a complimentary cane with a note that stated in part, “Doubtlessly you will recognize the head of ‘The Nast Eagle.'” From this point forward cane collectors will realize the Tiffany eagle should properly be called the Nast-Tiffany eagle.
Unique Forms and Materials
Rare forms and materials triggered particularly aggressive bidding. Those attending the auction expressed the opinion that a 3 3/4-inch fully three dimensional crab was a unique form. The carver of the highly realistic rendering went over the top by placing two juvenile crabs on the back of the adult. That cane sold for $5,600. Henry Taron believed a three-dimensional spider was a unique cane handle form, and it sold for $4,368.
Another cane that appeared to be unique was a silver octopus cane. When Henry Taron was asked if it was unique, he responded, “Well I have sold one before, about five years ago. However it was the same cane. The man who bought it is now ill, and he consigned it. Octopi canes are truly rare.” The cane sold for $3,920.
In some instances, motifs were reshuffled to produce rare and possibly unique arrangements. One such cane handle was based upon a shorebird head. A formal dining pose was affected by extending a high collared shirt with a button to the bird’s jowls. A frog was clasped within the bird’s bill. The whimsical configuration drove bidding to $3,138.
The most rare material was the volcanic rock obsidian. A cane fashioned from the glassy rock wonderfully depicted a rhinoceros head. Neither the auction staff nor members of the audience could recall having previously seen an obsidian cane handle. It sold for $4,368.
A half dozen canes were offered with whale ivory handles carved in motifs preferred by sailors. The most successful of those at $6,160 featured an octagonal knob with a Neo-classical design. Inlaid baleen dots provided reserved accents to each of the eight panels. The rosewood shaft had octagonal fluting above a four-strand twisted rope section. The top of the cane was inscribed “Wm. Meldrum 1820.” That is an early date for an American whaling cane.
Another successful nautical cane at $4,760 was a “going-ashore-cane.” The cane handle from a whale’s tooth was carved in the form of a hand and ball and mounted above a whalebone shaft. Ship captains carried such canes when visiting foreign ports. If trouble erupted, the captain delivered a stunning blow with the cane.
During the cane era, many professionals carried tools of their trade within canes. $1,456 was paid for a cheese merchant’s cane that concealed a cheese tester for boring into cheese wheels. A more intricate example was a 1916 London tea merchant’s cane whose top was fashioned from silver with a gold wash on the interior. When the lid of the cane was removed, it revealed two compartments for tea samples. Concealed beneath that was a funnel for preparing tea samples. The conical handle doubled as a teacup. It sold for $4,200.
A different type of occupation cane was the cane that proclaimed the owner’s profession. For example, an ivory handle cane that sold for $1,792 had a coat-of-arms carved on one side and a lush cluster of grapes on the other side. That cluster of grapes suggested the cane owner also had a vineyard.
Tradewinds publishes outstanding auction catalogs. The catalog for this auction was illustrated entirely in color on glossy stock. Every cane was illustrated at least once, and 142 lots were shown in two or more images. The text accompanying the illustrations was extensive with full explanations of mechanisms, materials, and related examples that have appeared in cane literature.
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