The horrible habit of Americans of putting their hands in their pockets has led to the popularity of canes in this country. The Japanese gentleman shows appreciation to the same feeling when his costume is incomplete—without his shutting fan, which he hangs at his belt, over his right shoulder or in the breast folds of his silken gown. The French or English gentleman for the same reason never attends a full dress party without his crush hat in his hand.
The fashion of carrying canes, however, among the swells and lah-de dah lads of New York has each season its rules, which are observed with as much exquisite punctilio as those of ladies who wear a poke bonnet one year and scoop hat the next. Most of these fashions originate in Europe. A year or two ago there were two styles—the shepherd's crook, shaped like a fishhook, and the Zulu crook, a plain, curved handle. The Zulu came from Paris, the shepherd from London. These styles in canes were introduced in the spring and were preceded by the crutch. When our fathers were lads the whalebone cane was the proper thing. Now they are so scarce that they are worth to the dealer from $3 to $3.50. Last year the fashion was to carry a silver ball cane. Then there is a style in carrying a cane and this varies each year. One year it was to walk with a spring gait, with bent knees and arms akimbo as far forward as possible, and the cane was held between one finger and thumb, correctly balanced so as to swing gracefully. Then came the aesthetic style. The cane was held in front of the body by the first and second fingers of both hands and was allowed to hang limp, while the elbows were still further forward and the shoulders, if possible, more round. Then there was a fashion last year of holding the ferule down. This year it is to hold it in the middle with the ferule to the front, just as Mr. Spot Dandridge does after his return from the East. That's the proper " caper."
The material is as various as can well nigh be conceived of. Many are of imported woods: some from the tropics, China and the East Indies. The celebrated Whongee canes are from China, where they are well known and celebrated for the regularity of their joints which are the points from which the leaves are given off, and the stems of a species of phyllosiachys, a gigantic grass closely allied to the bamboo. The orange and lemon are highly prized and are imported chiefly from the West Indies, and perfect specimens command enormous prices. The orange stick is known by its beautiful green bark, with fine white longitudinal markings, and the lemon by the symmetry of its proportions and both prominence and regularity of its knots. Myrtle sticks possess also a value, since their appearance is so peculiar that their owner would seldom fail to recognize them. They are imported from Algeria. The rajah stick is an importation. It is the stem of a palm and a species of calamus. It is grown in Borneo, and takes its name from the fact that the rajah will not allow any to go out of the country unless a heavy duty is paid. These canes, known as palm canes, are distinguished by an angular and more or less flat appearance. Their color is brownish, spotted, and they are quite straight with neither knob nor curl. They are the petioles of leaf stalks of the date palm. Perhaps the most celebrated of the foreign canes are the Malacca, being the stems of the calamus sceptonum, a slender climbing palm, and not growing about Malacca as the name would seem to indicate, but imported from Stak on the opposite coast of Sumatra. Other foreign canes are of ebony, rosewood, partridge, or hairwood and cactus, which, when the pith is cut out, present a most novel appearance, hollow and full of holes.
The manufacture of canes is by no means the simple process of cutting the sticks in the woods, peeling off the bark, whittling down the knots, sandpapering the rough surface, and adding a touch of varnish, a curiously carved handle or head, and tipping the end with a ferule. In the sand flats of New Jersey whole families support themselves by gathering nanneberry sticks, which they gather in the swamps, straighten with an old vise, steam over an old kettle and perhaps scrape down or whittle into size. These are packed in large bundles to New York city and sold to the cane factories. Many imported sticks, however, have to go through a process of straightening by mechanical means, which are a mystery to the uninitiated. They are buried in hot sand until they become pliable. In front of the heap of hot sand in which the sticks are plunged is astoutboaid from five to six feet long, fixed at an angle inclined to the workman, and having two or more notches cut in the edge When the stick has become perfectly pliable the workman places it on one of the notches, and, bending it in the opposite direction to which it is naturally bent, straightens it. Thus, sticks apparently crooked, bent, warped and worthless are by this simple process straightened; but the most curious part of the work is observed in the formation of the crook or curl for the handles which are not naturally supplied with a hook or knob. The workman places one end of the cane firmly in a vise, and pours a continuous stream of fire from a gas pipe on the part which is to be bent. When sufficient heat has been applied, the cane is pulled slowly and gradually round until the hook is completely formed and then secured with a string. An additional application of heat serves to bake and permanently fix the curl. The under part of the handle is frequently charred by the action of the gas, and this is rubbed down with sandpaper until the requisite degree of smoothness is attained.
Source: The Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review - July 1884