A collection of walking sticks that had all the essentials for a Victorian gentleman – and a few ‘extras’ too – has gone under the hammer.

The ingenuity needed to incorporate every possible necessity in a walking stick appealed to the late Gordon Bramah, whose collection it was. Walking sticks come in many shapes and sizes and are highly sought after by collectors. At the specialist auction that Gordon’s collection was offered, it was Russian buyers who found a home for many of his sticks. The 51 walking sticks in the collection incorporated useful things like a flask, a drinking cup and a corkscrew. There was also a fishing rod and even a compass and a telescope. Other examples incorporated a battery-operated lamp and even a folding card table.

Some of the ‘defensive’ walking sticks sold well – some were ones that secret agent John Steed in The Avengers would have been proud to carry around. And an umbrella walking stick also sold well – probably one of the most useful items for our Derbyshire climate! It was around the 17th or 18th century that a solid walking stick took over from the sword as an essential part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. In addition to its value as a decorative accessory, it also continued to fulfil its function as a weapon. Often made from malacca (the stem of the rattan cane) with a rounded metal grip. It is not clear who made the example of an umbrella/ walking stick from Gordon’s collection but it could well have been the Samuel Fox Company in Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire. It is believed to be the Englishman Jonas Hanway (1712-1786) who made the umbrella we know today.

However, Hanway’s memorial plaque in Westminster Abbey honours his commitment to abandoned children and prostitutes, but does not mention his  groundbreaking service to the umbrella. It should be noted that before people in England and elsewhere used umbrellas to protect themselves against the rain, a ‘portable roof’ was employed primarily to provide shade from the sun. Around 1800, an umbrella weighed approximately 10lbs, as its frame was made of wooden rods and whalebone. Even Wellington, the victor of Waterloo, owned an umbrella made of waxed canvas which included a rapier hidden in the handle. It should be remembered that in those days the only covered transport was the private coach or Sedan chair.

Umbrellas were heavy, ungainly things made with heavy cotton fabric, waterproofed by oiling or waxing and mounted on a long, stout stick of about one inch in diameter. Then in the mid 1800s came the development of the Fox Steel Ribs and Frames and so the modern umbrella was born. In 1852 Samuel Fox invented the steel frame, which reduced the weight of an umbrella. Due in some part to tariff-free raw materials from its colonies, England was able to produce inexpensive umbrellas - with production costs often less than a penny.

The word umbrella reveals its original function, as it is derived from the Latin ‘umbra’, meaning shadow, with umbrella meaning ‘little shadow’. Regardless of whether its function was to ward off the sun or rain, the umbrella has hardly changed since Victorian times: black, slim and precisely rolled. Walking stick and umbrella handles, on the other hand, have developed into an art form of their own. Whether gold-plated or in sterling silver, leather, horn and cane, or with an integrated flashlight, pencil, watch, pill box, compass or drinking glass, many of these examples were included in Gordon’s collection.

Editor’s Note: Perhaps you have jewellery, antiques and collectables that might be valuable? If so, it is worth getting the advice of an Independent Antiques Valuer to assess your items. Contact Vivienne Milburn on 01629 640210 or 07870 238788 or email vivienne@viviennemilburn.co.uk

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