I’m a stick-collecting fanatic. This is not an exaggeration. Ask any collector how they feel about their collection and you will hear much the same. Back in 1998 I had a chance encounter with the book
Canes Through The Ages written by Francis Monek. And thus began my passion for canes/walking sticks.
Canes Through The Ages Auction XIV was held on April 16, 2005. During those years CTA auctions occurred bi-annually, in fall and spring, and that particular auction marked my 13th consecutive CTA auction. I was fortunate at that time as I lived an hour’s drive from where CTA auctions were held.
As with all stick auctions, a cane/walking stick preview is held prior to the actual start of the auction. This particular auction, there were approximately 200 sticks lying side by side on tables. The room was small but adequately sized and filled with, by the time the auction began, perhaps 40 people.
During the preview period, any questions regarding the items up for auction are addressed. This particular auction, Youssef Kadri, well-known in cane collecting circles and responsible for the photographs, textual descriptions, and general layout of the beautifully appointed auction catalog, was available to answer questions, as was the auctioneer, John Monek. A bit of eavesdropping on the exchange of banter over the tables during the preview quickly revealed a number of the attendees and bidders to be experts in their own right. As a relatively new collector at the time, I listened carefully to what these experts had to say, and learned a good deal, learning later that I was in the company of collectors with world class collections.
I recognized many faces that day from prior auctions and the “regulars” greeted and mingled with each other. The crowd was diverse, with old and new collectors from all walks of life. That day and as is typical of all cane/walking stick auctions, there were canes on auction to satisfy a variety of collections and budgets.
I remember the palpable excitement in the room as guests examined the sticks during the inspection period, and sticks were examined with great deliberation, comparing descriptions and pictures from the catalog to the actual things of beauty. And beautiful they were, premier canes, and a wide variety offered. There were carved ivories, jeweled handles, nautical sticks, and an assortment of gadget canes. Although the catalog was extremely well done with absolutely gorgeous pictures, they did not do justice to these exquisite works of art.
As the auction got underway, wielding the gavel was licensed auctioneer John Monek, son of collector and author of Canes Through the Ages Francis Monek who, according to his book, boasted a collection of over 5,000 canes. While setting a brisk pace (canes were auctioned off approximately one every two minutes), John maintained an easy rapport with the bidders on the floor, adding to the conviviality of the auction’s overall atmosphere. The bidding often became quite lively, adding to the excitement in the room, with some canes going far above the auction estimates. Helpers were stationed at phones receiving phone bids (this was prior to internet auctions) and the auctioneer factored in all bids on the pad on behalf of absentee bidders. Each cane in turn was brought to the front and the description read. Bidders were offered a final opportunity to examine the cane briefly before bidding began. The bidding ran smoothly and on schedule. At the close of the auction, of the 209 items in the catalog, approximately 50 canes remained unsold. At this auction, for the first time, unsold canes were re-opened for a second round of bidding for the benefit of those bidders who had passed up some sticks only to be disappointed by being outbid for a cane they were holding out for later in the auction (as I was included in this group, I was grateful for this second chance!)
The stars of the show on that beautiful spring day so many years ago were a finely carved marine cane with whalebone shaft from the mid 19th century and a French stick featuring a hard-stone smoky quartz figural handle in the style of Carl Faberge. Both fetched winning bids of over $11,000. But it’s not necessary to spend that kind of money to take home a cane, and several sticks sold on that day for under $300.
I have learned many things about collecting, identification and assigning value from attending auctions. I encourage others who are interested in the pursuit of fine antique canes/walking sticks to experience at least one auction during their collecting years.