A History of Walking Sticks

The walking stick has three main parts — the 'handle' by which the stick is held, the 'shaft' or straight part of the stick, a 'band' or 'collar' which joins the handle to the shaft if they are of different materials, a 'ferrule' or tip, and the 'wrist cord' for carrying. A ferrule was usually metal to protect the end of the stick. Sometimes, however, it was of a material that matched the handle, such as ivory horn, silver or gold. Before roads were paved, the ferrule was three to four inches long.

Although the first sticks were probably used to help one stand, they became both weapons and symbols of authority. The larger and stronger the man, the larger the stick. As centuries passed, man added stones, points and hatchets to the sticks, which then became weapons as well as walking aides. The most elaborate of sticks would belong to the chiefs of tribes. These were often elaborately carved with emblems pertaining to the tribe.

In ancient Egypt, a stick was an object of prime importance. But while everyone had one, they varied by the person's occupation. A shepherd's staff was different from a merchant's, whose was different from a priest's or Pharaoh's. The stick remained with a person even in death, when it was placed in the coffin beside the mummy to protect the deceased on his travels.

The middle ages were dominated by the church, and this showed in the design of the walking sticks. The decorations were crosses and bishop's crosiers. Some even contained hiding places for money, precious stones and secret weapons.

European kings used canes or sticks as a symbol of authority. Many monarchs, such as Henry VIII and Charles I have their hands resting on sticks in their portraits. Louis XIV 'wore' his canes, and the court followed suit. (Although they could not be worn to court in the presence of the king.) The knobs and handles of many royal sticks were embellished with precious jewels.

Once the industrial revolution came about in the 19th century, canes were manufactured in mass by the hundreds of thousands. Stores carried specialty canes as well, some even designed by the leading silversmiths of the day.