In September 2006, an Oakland California man walked into Clars Auction Gallery also in Oakland with two canes he had acquired years before while helping clean a garage. The American 19th century ebonized wood presentation walking stick was attached to a beautifully engraved gold octagonal knob with alternately inscribed, elaborately engraved and decorated panels. Inset was a bezel-mounted richly grained and faceted octagonal gold quartz stone above eight bezel side mounts of gold quartz. As reported in a reference article which appeared in Kovel’s Newsletter a few weeks later, this rare 1871 cane was made in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush, and carried an estimated value of $2,000. Frenzied floor, Internet and phone bidding ensued, with the gavel coming down at $49,725.
The art of fashioning gold quartz into objects is unique to the western United States, primarily California. Gold quartz canes appeared at the time of the California Gold Rush, the years between 1848 and approximately 1864, although subsurface mines would continue extracting gold for another 20 years.
According to an article appearing in The Mandel Cane Collection by Youssef Kadri, gold quartz canes were generally manufactured in two basic types, with a handle or knob, and a cartouche for engraving presentation information. Most gold quartz canes were presentation pieces.
Although never mass produced, gold quartz canes were created as an expression of pride by individuals who were either directly or indirectly involved, but in either case came to profit from the enormous wealth generated by this turbulent and exciting time in our country’s history.
Gold quartz canes were often presented to friends and family, as well as dignitaries in the eastern states as symbols of California heritage and art.
Although far more gold handled gold quartz canes were made, silver handled examples were also made.
Note that no true California gold quartz canes had makers marks. If a makers mark is present, then it is not an authentic gold quartz cane.
Also note that California Gold quartz canes with foreign language presentation are very rare.
Presentation to a traceable figure in the American West, age, artistic merit and condition all affect the value of gold quartz canes. Given the historical importance and appeal, many pieces of gold quartz have been inset into well-designed and executed gold knobs or handles with stunning results. Buyer beware, as value is grossly affected when pieces are created with the intent to deceive, not unlike marine canes made as part of the tourist trade but sold as authentically crafted and whaler made.
1. The Mandel Cane Collection by Youssef W. Kadri
2. Canes and Walking Sticks – A Stroll Through Time and Place by Jeffrey B. Snyder