In examining a cane in an upright, vertical position with handle on top, the main components include handle, collar, shaft and ferrule. Other components at times included eyelets and swivels. These are the standard terms currently used to describe the various parts of cane anatomy. Note that in Kurt Stein’s wonderful book Canes & Walking Sticks, he refers to the collar as the “ferrule” and the ferrule as the “finial.” However common usage today is as described. Below is a brief description of the various parts of a cane/walking stick, with more in depth descriptions found as sub-categories of cane anatomy.
Cane handles were as varied as the imaginations of their creators. It is thought that early cane handles consisted of deer and elk horn, still used today. Many intricate carvings are seen in ivory or bone, taking various forms and shapes, all showcasing the talents of the carvers.
Handles were also made of, but not limited to, horn, shell, porcelain, enamel, crystal, glass, onyx, agate, jasper, lapis lazuli, coral, tortoiseshell, cameos and of course precious and non-precious metals, created with all the beauty and ingenuity of which the jewelers and craftsman were capable. Enormous variety in design was seen, and period influences impacted both design and shape.
Handle shapes changed over time. Various shapes included knob (also called ball or bulb), L-shape or rounded L-shape (sometimes with metal, ivory or bone end cap), crop handle, crutch handle, opera handle, pear shape, shepherd’s crook, Beck de Corbin (old and rare), figured (or Imago), pistol grip, T-handle, semi-crook and on more modern canes, crook or umbrella handle common from 1860 onward.
The names of handle shapes changed depending on the manufacturer and time period, with handle names suggesting notable figures of the time. For example, the Prince of Wales knob was in general usage in 1890 by manufacturer Henry Howell & Co. of London.
The collar, band or ring, refers to the flange or sleeve encircling the area where handle meets shaft. The most obvious function of the collar was to strengthen the stick, prevent splitting of the shaft, hide the joint area, and secure handle to shaft. For those individuals who had achieved higher societal status, decorative collars were added for further adornment.
Collars were made from a wide variety of materials including gold, silver, base metal, bone, ivory, baleen, wire mesh, and enamel, enhancing the overall appearance of the stick. Note that collars at times included inscriptions or monograms.
The shaft is the straight part of the cane, made from an unlimited number of materials including woods, rattan stems, or canes, from virtually everything that grows. Other organic materials used included horn, bone, ivory, gutta percha, shark/dolphin and boa vertebrae, even phallic organs (bull). Inorganic materials were also used, such as metals and glass, called “end of day” canes. Of course combinations of several materials was not unusual.
The part of the cane in contact with the ground, covered by perhaps metal, bone, ivory or horn, protecting the shaft against deterioration and splitting, is called the ferrule. Although sticks originally were made without ferrules, it became quickly apparent that without a protective bottom to shield the object from puddles, deep mud, snow or the unpaved roads existing at the time, the cane would deteriorate rapidly. To offset this, the ferrule was introduced.
Beneath the handles on canes between the early 18th century, when their use became widespread, to the years preceding 1860, when frequency declined, a hole was drilled through the handle up to about the middle of the 18th century, and after that through the upper shaft. A cord was passed to form a loop worn around the wrist, thus freeing the hands.
Many eyelets have very small holes in their center, so small in diameter as to make it improbable for a wrist cord to be passed through. Francis H. Monek, in 1993 at an international cane collectors convention, asked this very question, and after receiving no authoritative response suggested that perhaps these narrow-holed eyelets were not for the thick wrist cord but for a swivel or half ring that had a round end protrusion that was inched into the eyelet hole. The wrist cord goes through the swivel, and not the eyelet. These are often lost over time, leaving the observer to wonder how a cord could be passed through so small a hole. This swivel is actually called a clevis and is meant solely for holding the wrist cord and tassels.1
1. Monek, Francis H., Canes through the Ages, P. 88.
2. Stein, Kurt, Canes & Walking Sticks.
3. Gilai Collectibles – www.gilai.com (graphic cane image).