The term cane is in use in the US, while the term ‘walking stick’ is better known in the UK. For many years the word ‘cane’ brought, indeed, to mind a form of punishment used in schools. One imagines a naughty school boy bending over while a teacher gives him a beating with a cane. Nowadays, the teacher would be arrested, since corporal punishment is banned in the UK. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll prefer the word ‘cane’.
It is likely that a primitive man with walking problems took a stick from a tree to help his balance. In time, the basic cane could be modified. That is to say, it could indeed become a weapon of some sort or a hatchet.
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There is a mention of the cane in the Bible, when Cain used one to kill his brother Abel. In ancient Egypt they were extremely important. Their shape depended on the status of the owner. Or rather, whether the owner was a simple shepherd or an important priest. Moreover, whether the user was a Pharoah. In Tutankhamun’s time, it was a symbol of power. In fact, over a hundred canes were found in his tomb to help him on his way to the other world. Besides, to the Greeks, it represented a sceptre, many having pommels of ivory or silver. In the Middle Ages canes were used as bishops’ staffs. The curved top symbolized ‘drawing in the flock’. Pilgrims used them for defence.
King Henry VIII (who had two of his six wives beheaded) can be seen in portraits with his hand on a cane. Not only, a famous portrait by van Dyck of King Charles I (also beheaded) shows him with a cane. Louis XIV of France (the Sun King) carried a tall cane. Indeed, courtiers were banned from bringing a cane into his presence. Not only, many women also carried canes. Queen Marie Antoinette had one shaped like a shepherd’s crook.
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Canes as a “must”
Canes became extremely fashionable in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were, therefore, considered an attribute to enhance one’s status and elegance. With the advent of industrialization, handles were made by the thousand. In the US models were created by some of the most famous silversmiths. Such as those designed by Gorham and Tiffany. However, canes gradually started to go out of fashion after the First World War.
To digress for a moment
James Biggs of Bristol, UK, is said to have invented the white cane in 1921 as a symbol for the blind. In May 1931 the BBC suggested these canes should be given free to blind people and become a universal symbol. In The US, the Lion’s Club sponsored a similar movement. Not only: in 1964 the US Congress passed a law allowing a president to declare a ‘White Cane Safety Day’. Lyndon B. Johnson declared 15 October as the Day.