Weapons canes present the more sinister side of the gadget cane and often command the highest prices. They are among the most sophisticated and complex of canes as they were skillfully crafted to conceal from view a host of deadly weapons including swords, daggers, flick sticks, and guns.
Plain in demeanor with little embellishment, these canes could, with a simple motion such as a flick of the wrist, become a deadly weapon. At one time the French government declared it illegal to carry a cane into a public gathering for fear that any one of them might conceal harmful weapons, including guns. These fears were apparently well-founded. Three of the most diabolical canes known to exist were used by insurgents during 19th-century street riots in France. One such cane patented in 1883 and aptly named “La Terrible” contained three sets of double razor blades that emerged from its painted metal shaft ripping the hands of anyone trying to grab it. This cane along with two similarly outfitted canes, “La Diabolique,” and “La Redoutable” were so sinister they were outlawed in France shortly after they went into production. Today, very few collectors have had the good fortune of acquiring a set of these rare canes.
Sword canes are canes that contain a concealed blade within a hollow shaft. There are a great variety of sword canes, not only reflecting, as other sticks, features and defining styles of a particular time period, but also in the decoration, quality and style of their blades and their mechanisms and manners of disguise.
The typical sword canes are a simple pull out, where one holds the handle in one hand and shaft in the other and pulls, sliding out the blade. Others have a locking device requiring the pushing of a button that presses down on a catch and releases the blade when pulled outward. The finest mechanism of release have a cam device holding it locked, where one must twist the handle a half turn to the right and a cam rolls over a spring catch and releases the blade when pulled. Upon replacing the blade, one must turn the handle a half turn counterclockwise, securely locking the blade. Variations of this locking device are also seen.
Blades may be simple, four-sided foil blades, which remained relatively unchanged over the passage of time, or etched, engraved, blued and gilt, finely ornamented examples of the cutler’s art.
The first sword canes were made for nobility by leading sword cutlers, but not so for pilgrims who, lacking royal blood, were not given this right. 16th century sword canes were often bequeathed in wills. With a French ordinance issued in 1661-1666 forbidding carrying such “blades in sticks,” one can assume by that time that sword canes were quite fashionable. Though swords disappeared with the rise of the propertied class (or bourgeoisie) and were used only by the military, sword canes remained and even became more popular as the streets became less safe. Society dictated it mandatory that gentlemen of the 18th and especially 19th centuries would wear a cane when out and about, and it was common for the well-dressed gentleman to own and sport canes in a variety of styles, including a good sword cane.
Prior to mass production in the second half of the 19th century, sword canes were the handicrafts of sword cutlers who often worked with other artisans to finish the handle in ivory, silver or gold. In the second half of the 19th century, blades were manufactured and marked most frequently by leading companies in Toledo Spain, Solingen Germany, Wilkinson England, and Klingenthal France and St-Étienne France, to name the most important. Except for St-Étienne, these factories produced only the blades, which were later expertly mounted in canes by local artisans, which was a delicate job.
It is very rare to find an American blade mounted as a sword cane. Most sword canes found in the United States have blades marked Toledo, Solingen or otherwise, possibly because it was not the custom for American manufacturers to sign their blades as was the norm in Europe. It is more likely that these sticks are made up of an American shaft and an imported blade.
Sections of main types of blades of sword canes
The foils of early and mid-19th century were rather flat, rectangular in section, and those of the late 19th and early 20th century were nearly square. Other types include single edged, oval/double edged, flat hexagon/double edged, diamond, triangle and small sword, sometimes referred to as rapier, although the true rapier blade is double-edged. Point of interest is the myth surrounding the “blood groove,” that it allows for blood to flow from a wound so that the blade can be removed easier. In actuality, it served a different function, known for years, that by removing metal from the middle of a blade you reduce its weight without compromising its strength too greatly.
It must be noted that blades were articles of international trade and the national origin of a blade found in a sword cane is not necessarily an indication that the entire cane originated there. Also, the names of blade-making centers remained unchanged and their names do not necessarily indicate a date. An important clue to dating can be found in its decoration, if not ruined by rust, cleaning and polishing. Decoration was usually lavished upon the fine blades such as the double-edged or single edged blades of the more elegant canes and the triangular blades of the fine 18th century sticks. Most of these blades were blued and bore gilt decorations and engravings of floral sprays and military or musical themes. As a general rule of thumb, when the blued portion of a blade, which usually extends only along the upper third of its length, ends in a straight line across the blade, it may be assumed that it is of an early period, generally before 1820. If the bluing ends in a decorative scroll, the cane most likely dates from after approximately 1820 to past the middle of the 19th century. After this period, the better blades were decorated in bright designs often without bluing, or they were blued and gilt in highly ornate patterns, reflecting the tastes of the second half of the century and beyond.1
Sword canes, as others, are frequently of bamboo, as this naturally hollow material provided great ease of manufacture. Not infrequently, wooden shafts were even carved to resemble bamboo. The finest sword canes are of Malacca, but a variety of other woods have been used.
The most sought after sword canes have the longest blades. However, beautiful and well-crafted dagger canes are also much sought after. Dagger blades are shorter than sword canes, and the steel was often intricately designed to make wounds hard to heal. Stilettos and flick sticks are shorter still, and can be activated when pressed against something or someone, or snapped out with the flick of the wrist.
Care must be taken before accepting a short blade as an original dagger as when a long blade broke, it was oftentimes reshaped or re-pointed, making it appear to be a dagger cane. In order to test for this, insert a long, stiff wire into the scabbard portion of the suspect cane. If a full-length scabbard is found to sheath a short blade, the latter can be assumed to be a remnant of what was once a long blade.2
A secret weapon to keep one safe. That was the instigation for the creation of weapons canes in general, and gun canes certainly offered an advantage over possible aggressors! A gun cane appears as an ordinary stick, not fancy, not designed to attract attention. Gun canes first appeared shortly after the invention of gun powder. Initially these were used by the Chinese as hand cannons, then by others in flint-lock, air, cap and ball and, finally, cartridge varieties. Just imagine the great variety of gun canes with an equally great number of detonating devices all applied to a hollow shaft that activates a lethal bullet–quite extraordinary!
Originally the design of gun canes emulated the prevalent gun design and styles of the time. In earlier types, the barrel curves upward from the mid-section when held horizontally so that one could place the handle of the cane under the armpit and sight forward toward the end of the barrel. Since this exposed the holder’s intentions, in later examples the entire shaft was straightened and topped with a typical handle style of the time.
While American Revolutionaries were still making and using flint-lock guns, the Austrians were perfecting powerful air guns. It is said that George Washington sent Benjamin Franklin to Europe to buy such guns for his Revolutionary Army, abandoning the project due to the prohibitive expense and insufficient smiths available to repair them. Eventually the air gun was incorporated into a cane, many manufactured in England after 1848.
Concurrent with the appearance of the air gun were the cap and ball canes. In the United States, the most widely acclaimed cap and ball canes were made by the Remington Arms Company from 1858. These were designed by J.F. Thomas who obtained a patent on February 9, 1858. Remington also produced a cartridge gun through 1889. The dog head model of the Remington gun canes, in both cap, ball and cartridge types, were made for .22-caliber short or .32-caliber short rimfire cartridges, discontinued about 1910. The Remington gun cane has always been the most beautiful and desirable of all gun canes.
- In 1877 Marcelin Daigle patented a repeating rifle gun cane which is very rarely found.
- While many other types of gun canes were manufactured, most were of single shot design.
In Europe, the most popular gun canes were the rifle and shotgun types made by Dumonthier in the mid-19th century. Dr. Roger N. Lambert filed the first American patent in 1832. The ferrule is spring loaded and pops down, freeing the barrel when the handle is pulled back to reveal the trigger mechanism.
Other gun activating mechanisms of German design prior to 1900 are completely hidden in the handle, and the gun is cocked by pulling a lever down from under the grip. This movement cocks the firing pin and ejects the trigger.
Some canes enclose complete 6-shot revolvers, often with attached daggers, and their shock value is enhanced tremendously when they are pulled from an innocuous stick. Such sticks are often referred to at “pepper boxes.”
Most gun canes require the use of two hands to cock and activate the firing mechanism. In 1921, a Frenchman named C. Joriot invented a gun cane which could be operated with only one hand. This is a pistol cane which shoots two cartridges, with the activator located inside the soft leather handle. When the handle is pressed by the right thumb on its left side, it releases a spring which blows the entire shaft from the breech, leaving only the pistol in the hand. Then, using the same pressure activator, one can fire up to two cartridges, all accomplished with one hand. It is rare for a gun cane to contain a pistol rather than a rifle or shotgun, and rarer still to house a rifle-pistol-sword-dagger combination! Some were made for Indian maharajahs and very ornate, inlaid with gold and silver, as one might expect.
- In 1867, the British advertised “Walking Stick Blow tubes” for shooting vermin, birds and rabbits.
After the President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, gun canes in particular were outlawed as they were considered assassin’s weapons. The ownership of gun canes is prohibited by law unless appropriated registered.
1. Stein, Kurt, Canes and Walking Sticks.
3. Dike, Catherine, Cane Curiosa.
4. Monek, Francis, Canes through the Ages.
5. M.S. Rau Antiques, LLC, Collecting Antique Walking Sticks, 12/9/99.