The first cane probably was just a strong stick, but
by the 19th century, a cane was a fashion accessory and sometimes hid a tool.
The heads of canes were made of wood, ivory, gold or
silver, leather, pewter or porcelain, sometimes with inlay and precious gems. Canes with a carving of a political candidate’s head were used until Franklin Roosevelt objected — because he was disabled.
At recent antiques sales, there have been some very
unusual canes. Some hid weapons. Sword canes are familiar because of movies.
But few know there are canes that held parts of a
gun, including ammunition — a hidden arsenal. Another was a blow gun that could “shoot” bullets. A woman’s cane had a short knife blade to use for protection. A
“flicker” cane was made so a short blade could pop out of the handle. Most deadly was the “Diabolique,” a cane outlawed in France. If someone tried to pull
the cane, a set of spikes popped out of the shaft wounding the attacker’s hand. Tap the cane on the ground, and the spikes disappeared.
Most canes are less threatening. There is a cane
handle covered in carved grapes that unscrews to reveal a corkscrew. Another, a bamboo cane, has a horse-measuring ruler inside. One held supplies for a writer
— pens, paper, inkwell, penknife, eraser, pencil, sealing wax, a candle and matches. Another held a woman’s accessories, including tweezers, nail picks, buttonhook, crochet needle, bottles and fan.
But that is not all. Imagine a cane that held a long,
thin working violin and bow. An artist could get a cane that held an easel, palette and paints. Some canes are amusing. A peephole let the owner look at a picture of a bathing beauty, while another held a whiskey bottle. Strangest is a Chinese “spitter” cane with a silver handle shaped like a man’s head. Press his pigtail, point, and the head spits water at a victim. Any of these canes sell
for thousands of dollars today.
Q: Going through piles of my stuff, I found my
teen collection of 24 silly arcade cards called “Licenses to Do Anything.” I remember buying them from coin-operated machines in the late 1930s or early
’40s. Each one is postcard size, 3¼ by 5½ inches, and is printed on heavy stock with green lettering and a fancy green border. Mine include a Back Seat Driver’s
License, a Bachelor’s Permit and a Spendthrift Permit. What are they worth?
A: Your cards were issued by the Exhibit
Supply Co. of Chicago. The copyright date on the ones we have seen is 1941. A set of 30 mint examples is being offered online for $30. So your smaller set
would sell for less than that.
• Wooden recipe box, two roosters, hinged, Japan,
1950s, 5½ by 4½ inches, $5.
• Riviera Pottery creamer, ivory, $20.
• Candle snuffer, silver plate, baroque, Wallace, c.
1941, 8 inches, $25.
• Pressed-glass cake stand, Roman rosette, 10¼
• Hawaiian hula girl nodder, grass skirt, c. 1940,
5½ inches, $80.