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Walking Canes Have Hidden Features

October 16, 1986|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: My grandfather, who was in the winery business in Northern California, had a fancy cane, which we have kept in the family. The cane has an unusual measuring rod that can be released by pressing the handle. What could the rod have been used for?--G.A.

Answer: It was not uncommon for wine masters to use measuring rods to estimate the depths of wine vats.

Indeed, this is just one of myriad uses that ingenious cane manufacturers have devised over the years.

Magicians and photographers, for example, have had canes that have converted into tripods and tables. A hundred years ago, it was fashionable to have a cane that had a detachable top, which could be used as a container.

Additionally, canes that turn into weapons--either the shooting kind or the sword variety--are well known to cane aficionados. And don't forget umbrella, musical-instrument and fishing canes that have been designed by imaginative cane artists.

So-called gadget canes are popular among cane collectors, and some command high prices, depending on their condition. But canes do not have to have gimmicks to make them valuable. Fancy carved canes with human or animal heads are very popular. Or simply well-carved canes with intricately designed handles can command collector attention.

Unfortunately for collectors, few cane designers signed their work, thus making it difficult to nail down not only who produced a particular cane but when it was designed. Therefore, collectors will have to familiarize themselves with carving patterns that characterize a particular era if they want to discover a cane's age.

But a word of caution from experienced collectors: Age alone doesn't make the cane valuable--uniqueness of design is what fattens the price tag.

Q: I recently bought what appears to be a Confederate Civil War uniform at a flea market. How can I authenticate it?--D.D.

A: You'll have to have it authenticated either by a museum curator or Civil War memorabilia collectors.

However, beware of such clothing "finds." Collectors say there really isn't much around that hasn't been snapped up by museums. What's more, plenty of uniforms were produced after the war for Hollywood films and veterans groups.

But should you run across a Civil War uniform you can authenticate, it could be worth a small fortune. This is said in the knowledge that uniform buttons alone from a Civil War regiment have changed hands for hundreds of dollars.

On this latter point, the primary manufacturer of Union buttons were the Scovill Manufacturing Co. and the Waterbury Button Co. On the Confederate side, there were apparently a number of firms that produced them.

A book that might help the collector is the "Record of American Uniform and Historical Buttons" by Alphaeus H. Albert, published by the author, 353 Stockton St., Hightstown, N.J. 08520.

A recent comment on thimble collecting brought a response from A.W. of Exeter, who said a store in Maine had a catalogue of collectible thimbles. A call to the establishment, Gimbel & Sons Country Store (P.O. Box 57, 36 Commercial St., Boothbay Harbor, Me. 04538), confirmed that fact.

A spokeswoman said there were more than 600 thimbles in the catalogue, crafted from all over the world and ranging from about $1 to $50. There is a white porcelain thimble displaying a silver unicorn for $49.95. The catalogue, which also has dolls, costs 15 cents.

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