Nowadays people dress in all sorts of peculiar clothing, but it’s less than 100 years since simple everyday etiquette determined that ladies and gentlemen would not dream of leaving the house without a hat and cane.
While the hat persisted well into the 1960s, the cane or walking stick started to fall out of use in the early 1930s, but as Cane Mania, the International Society of Cane Collectors and the recent annual seminar in Kensington attest to, this is a rich field of collecting, and you will find any number of exotic, entrancing and elegant examples at auction.
The tradition of carrying a cane dates back to the 1550s and, along with the wide variety that developed came a whole field of etiquette about the way to carry a cane and what it could be used for. Obvious uses include its role as a defensive weapon and a support while walking or climbing steep slopes, although as early as the 16th century it was deemed unseemly for a gentleman to lean on his cane.
They have also provided an outlet for master carvers to pursue their art, as well as inventive souls to develop hidden contents or gadgets, such as swords, compasses and even mini hipflasks.
We may have no practical use for canes any more, but as an art form they are as fascinating as ever.