Much more than a practical device, the walking stick was a popular fashion accessory particularly during the 17th through 19th centuries. They emerged in a variety of materials including ivory, which allowed craftsmen to carve handles into a wide range of subjects rendered with extraordinary great detail. Now relics of a time when ivory was not widely considered taboo to manipulate, these gleaming walking aids are highly valuable objects, collected by many individuals. One such rabologist — yes, a collector of walking sticks — was the late Roy Moore, a British private collector who spent two years hunting down and amassing over 400 unique walking sticks from Europe to the United States and Japan, with many adorned with ivory handles. Half of his incredible collection is going to auction on Wednesday, October 5 at the London-based Chiswick Auctions, which sold the rest at a sale last June.
Moore previously collected orchids and paperweights, but it’s easy to see why walking sticks attracted his eye. The 200-lot sale features canes from the late 17th to the early 20th century that have carvings from the beautiful to the absolutely bizarre perched atop their shafts. Moore found sticks adorned with animals, from simple portraits of dogs, cats, and rabbits to more entertaining ones — like one 19th-century cane topped with an ivory British bulldog who even wears a monocle and one glass eye. He collected erotic walking sticks that essentially allow their owners to caress flesh with every step — whether the smooth female figure or a single phallus. Others may have once carried greater meaning, perhaps representing an individual’s interest, such as one stick with a handle shaped like a brass telescope, or another that resembles a four-section flute, with its shaft decorated like the rod of the wind instrument.
Moore’s collection also exemplifies the extremely skilled craftsmanship present in many of these small-scale carvings. One 19th century Japanese cane features a Buddha head tucked into a helmet; you may twist the head so it shows either a happy or a sad face. Another late 19th-century one doubled as a cheeky automaton: the artist carved its wooden handle into a monkey, and engineered it so that its red eyes swivel and its tongue sticks out when you pushed a button at the back of its head.
Walking sticks are also handy for hiding small or slender objects, with many designed so their handles twist off to reveal hollow, inner compartments. Back in the day, men used to conceal swords or knives in these shafts to whip out in case a dangerous situation arose — Moore found one particularly badass cane with its pommel carved into a grinning skull. But some serve less violent purposes, such as one gold cane that allows its owner to store matches in a convenient spot.
You may bid on all of this and more online, and with most starting prices ranging from £100-£300 (~$130 -$380 USD), the lots are actually pretty affordable. Of course, the very huge catch of these relatively low prices is that if you’re living in the US, you won’t be able to legally import anything made of ivory. But if you’re based in the United Kingdom, have at it and find your next favorite accessory — hey, if the monocle can make a sorta comeback, there’s hope for the walking stick, too.