Gadget/System/Dual purpose canes

Gadget canes, also called system, dual purpose, container or trick canes, are fascinating relics of a bygone age and highly coveted by stick collectors. This category of canes consists of those with a dual or hidden purpose, perhaps concealing a sword or gun, a whiskey flask and glass, a walking stick carried by a physician containing specialized equipment such as a scalpels and syringes.  There were seat canes, instrument canes and artist canes.  Gadget canes were used in much the same way as we use a wallet or purse today. Greater than 1,500 patents for gadget canes were applied for during the 18th and 19th centuries,

Because gadget canes were typically utilitarian in nature and therefore not embellished like decorative canes, they often ended up in attics or basements after they fell from fashion.  They are therefore very difficult to find complete and with all of their various pieces, making them some of the most sought after but hardest to find sticks.

Gadget canes were developed with a dual purpose in mind, to be used both as a stick in the conventional sense, as well as some additional hidden meaning or function.  It would be impossible to describe them all here; therefore, for the purpose of this article, discussion will be limited to categorization as opposed to a description of particular sticks. For greater detail on individual gadget canes, please  refer the excellent book Cane Curiosa by Catherine Dike.  If building your collection around system canes, this is a book you will want to acquire.

Gadget canes are believed to have been in existence at least since the 6th century when, as legend has it, two Persian monks smuggled silkworm larvae out of China inside hollowed-out staves.

Gadget/System/Dual Purpose canes are categorized into four broad categories, based on their function:
1.   City canes
2.   Outdoor canes
3.   Professional canes
4.   Weapons canes
Please see sub-articles for further explanations.

With gadget canes, value is determined partly by the cane’s function, which is often hidden. Dealers themselves do not always recognize gadget canes for what they are. For example, a sword cane may have been so expertly crafted that an unsuspecting owner may not even be aware of its hidden purpose!

Before purchasing any gadget cane, carefully inspect for replaced or missing pieces, which greatly diminishes the value. Buying from reputable sources and careful inspection by the buyer will greatly reduce the likelihood of an unhappy purchase.

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Intimate games whip cane. Most Likely French, late 19th Century. Bone handle carved with an interwoven, basket-like pattern on a Malacca shaft with a horn ferrule. The top of the handle unscrews to reveal the “instrument of pleasures” a red carnelian and ivory handled thin whip with silver gilts mounts for orchestrated “jeux intimes”. Unusual, if not a unique system cane with erotica ties. H. 4 ¼” x 1 ¾”, O.L. 38 ¼”, whip 19″. Image courtesy of Kimball M. Sterling Inc., #16, Intimate Games Whip Cane, February 4, 2012.

References:

1. Dike, Catherine, Cane Curiosa.
2. Monek, Francis, Canes through the Ages.
3. Dike, Catherine, Canes in the United States.
4. M.S. Rau Antiques, LLC, Collecting Antique Walking Sticks, 12/9/99.
5. Frances H. Monek, The Encyclopedia of Collectibles, Canes, Staffs of Many Lives, 1978.

 

For antique cane and walking stick enthusiasts