Mother-of-pearl was a popular material used to aesthetically enhance the beauty of canes and walking sticks. It is found in a variety of artistic approaches and cultures throughout history, taking its shape according to the technologies available to the craftsman of the day.

Mother-of-pearl refers to the iridescent substance forming the lining of the one-piece shells of certain fresh and salt water mollusks including mussels, oysters, and snails. When young, the mollusk creates the walls of its “house” by means of layer upon layer of secretions. These secretions form the beautiful, rainbow-colored shell called mother-of-pearl. The type of animal and environment in which it lives influences the color and form of the shell. The names mother of pearl and abalone are often used interchangeably, when in actuality abalone is a variety of gastropod mollusk (also called ear shells or sea ears) that inhabits the shell which is lined with mother- of-pearl.

There are many types of mother-of-pearl; however, cane handles were fashioned only from those shells with a thickness permitting them to be worked. Smaller pieces were used as inlays in handles and shafts, but these pieces were chosen for the way they reflected the colors of the rainbow.

Types of mother-of-pearl:
1.    White mother-of-pearl; from pearl bearing oysters. Its reflective qualities are high, and it is one of the most commonly used.
2.    Iridescent mother-of-pearl; the predominant colors are pink and green.
3.    Chip (variegated) mother-of-pearl; a multi-colored variety.
4.    Stone mother-of-pearl;  white, with a low reflective quality.
5.    Mat mother-of-pearl; dull gray, with a low reflective quality.

Although the terms mother-of-pearl and abalone are often used interchangeably, they are not the same.

  • The abalone is a gastropod in whose shell the inside iridescent layer is referred to as mother of pearl.
  • The abalone is edible whereas the mother of pearl is used for making jewelry, furniture, musical instruments, cane inlay, etc.
  • The abalone is a reddish brown whereas other of pearl is a milky, luminous white.

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Siam horn handle with mother-of-pearl inlay.
Petite dress cane with mother-of-pearl handle and brass embellishments.
081- Mother-of-pearl inlay
Hardwood cane with inlaid abalone shell floral and leaf design. Ca. 20th century.

For antique cane and walking stick enthusiasts