Cane ferrules 1600 to 1800
The part of the cane in contact with the ground, protecting the shaft against deterioration and splitting, is called the ferrule. During 1600 to 1800, canes infrequently had ferrules attached to the shaft, which limited the life expectancy of the stick. A bare bottomed stick would become soaked and later crack and become frayed and swollen at its terminal end. Sidewalks were scarce and roads unpaved and muddy. To overcome this, stick makers added ferrules, defined as a cap used to cover the bottom of the shaft. Ferrules during this time were long, varying in length from 3-1/2″ to 8″ and made primarily from brass in tapering sleeve fashion with a protruding iron tip for additional protection, and often decorated with simple lines or dots, also seen on collars of this period.
As roads became paved and sidewalks improved, the need for long ferrules decreased. The first decade of the 19th century, ferrules were still relatively long, much like the preceding period with a gradual decrease in length, from as little as 2 inches to generally a maximum of 4 inches by the 3rd and 4th decades of the 19th century. Occasionally seen of iron, the predominant material was brass.
Cane ferrules 1840 to 1865
Ferrules of the period 1840 to 1865 saw continued and gradual shortening and by the middle of the 19th century, seldom exceeded 2 inches, continued to be made of plain brass, sometimes of iron. Silver plate over brass ferrules were seen, sometimes no more than an inch in length. Horn ferrules make an appearance at this time and although increasingly popular, they never outnumbered those of metal.
Cane ferrules 1865 to 1920
The latter period of the 19th century, 1865-1920, ferrules were mostly of metal, chiefly brass, plated at first with silver, then nickel or chrome later toward the end of the century, i.e., two-part metal ferrule. With mass production manufacturing, ferrules were of uniform size and shape.
Although the word “finial” has been used when referring to the part of the cane in contact with the ground, Francis H. Monek in his book Canes through the Ages, clarifies, elaborating, “I have copies of many, many hundreds of patents on canes from the patent offices of England, Germany and the United States, and in not a single one of them is the bottom security device called a finial.”1
In general, the older the cane, the longer the ferrule. Ferrules as long as 8 inches in length easily date the stick. A rule of thumb for a collector, if a cane has a long ferrule–over 3-1/2 inches long, and a shaft that has eyelets for a wrist cord beneath the handle, he has a cane greater than 150 years old.
Another test of age is the wear pattern. If a ferrule is worn down past the iron tip, it has seen considerable use. Straight upright handles are not held in any consistent manner; therefore, ferrule wear reflects this by being uniformly worn over the surface of the tip. However with handles that are always held in the same position, ferrule wear will be obvious and in the same spot. If wear is not apparent, the ferrule may be a replacement.
Before purchasing a stick that is being sold as “ all original,” do your homework and check for consistency–does the ferrule show wear? Is the wear consistent with how the stick would have been held? If the ferrule is an obvious replacement, what else has possibly been replaced?
1. Monek, Francis H., Canes through the Ages, P. 89.
2. Stein, Kurt, Canes and Walking Sticks.