Damascene-“Toledoware” canes

Damascening is the application of interlacing precious metal on usually treated base metal or iron to produce beautiful decorative designs.

Damascene is named after Damascus, the capital city of Syria.  Damascus was known worldwide as a center of metalworking excellence in the Middle Ages.  Although Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans practiced the art of Damascening for centuries, it appears that the Spanish City of Toledo was the first area of major production in Europe (during the 15th century) and became famous worldwide for producing such works of art called “Toledoware” and known for centuries as the trademark of Toledo, Spain. This technique was used to make many beautiful cane handles.

Earlier pieces of Damascene tend to be more intricate and with many more and smaller inlays. As the tourist market developed in Toledo, pieces became easier to mass produce with fewer and fewer intricate designs.  Much of the “Damascene/Toledoware” which is seen for sale on the internet could more correctly be described as having been made in the Damascene or Toledoware technique and often have the traditional black and gold appearance but the gold is often painted on and it is likely the pieces inlaid are not gold or silver.

Process:

  • The surface of the object to be damasked is scored with slashes or very close nicks, using an instrument of highly tempered steel, leaving that surface prepared for the penetration of precious metals in the form of karat gold, silver, platinum.
  • Figures are drawn on the scored surface in gold and silver in lines.
    The total penetration of the precious metals comes via a type of punch or mate, striking the surface with a small hammer.
  • The black background of the piece is produced by a total oxidation of the non-damasked surfaces in a very hot bluing solution.
  • A light and delicate chipping process provides the unique sheen to the designs damasked in precious metals.
  • Lastly comes the manual chasing of the damasked piece.

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A blued steel knob with a 24 karat gold and pure silver damascened allegorical scene within a round frame of arabesques and trellises and gold inlay. 19th century. Image courtesy of Kimball M. Sterling Inc., #79, High Quality Toledo Cane-19th Century, July 28, 2012.
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Toledo steel and gold derby handle on a slender rosewood shaft decorated with dense 24-karat gold wire inlay accordingly arranged in 4 registers with various trailing patterns, framing borders and culminating with a rose on each side. 19th century example of Spanish Toledo art.
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Third quarter of the 19th century.

For antique cane and walking stick enthusiasts