May 17, 2021
Perfume Passage Foundation is dedicated to preserving the history, beauty, and artistry of perfume bottles, compacts, ephemera and related vanity items. The Foundation seeks to educate and inspire visitors by illuminating the connection between perfume and the human experience

There is More to That Cane That Meets the Eye!
What do Charlie Chaplin, Willy Wonka and Winston Churchill have in common?

They were almost never seen without their canes!
We know that a cane is a stick or short staff that is used to assist with walking. However, did you know that from the mid 1500s through the 1930s, canes were considered an accessory item that "proper" ladies and gentlemen wouldn't consider leaving the house without one.

Canes, also called walking sticks, weren't intended to be used as much as worn. They could be hand-carved from wood, bamboo, ivory, bone or animal horn. Sometimes they were made of porcelain, Bakelite (plastic), gold, silver or even glass. They could be enameled and embedded with gemstones.
Perfume Passage has a collection of canes on display throughout the galleries. Many of these are known as gadget canes and include items in the handles that relate to the perfumes, compacts and vanity items that we all collect.
In 16th century Europe canes were an important part of a person's image and etiquette regarding these walking sticks was established. For example, a gentleman did not carry his cane under his arm or lean on the cane. It was also considered bad manners to bring a cane while in the presence of an important person, such as royalty. Perhaps it was thought the walking stick might contain a weapon in the handle!

Throughout the centuries, a walking stick was used to punctuate a point, help while walking, show off carving skills and even to hide cash or pills.
In ancient times, canes and staffs were used specifically to fend off wild animal attacks, traveling over rugged terrain and to accentuate the status and power of the user.

In 1702, it was considered a privilege to carry a walking stick in London. Men were required to carry a license, or they lost the privilege.
License to carry a cane or walking stick:
"You are hereby required to permit the bearer of this cane to pass and repass through the streets of London or any place ten miles of it without theft or molestation provided that he does not walk with it under his arm, brandish it in the air or hang it on a button in which case it shall be forfeited and I hereby declare it may be forfeited to anyone who shall think it safe to take it from him."

This information is from the New Zealand Whanganui Regional Museum website.
Walking sticks are usually classified into three categories: folk art canes, city sticks, and gadget or systems canes.

The Perfume Passage cane collection can attest to the most fascinating of these--the gadget cane.
In the US, there was once more than 1,500 patents for gadget canes.

Gadget canes, also known as system or mechanical canes, have been around for centuries. These canes included an object, device or mechanism which was usually concealed in the tip or handle of the cane.

Canes were made to hide weapons such such as guns, knives or swords, making them easily available when called out on a duel or dare.
Handles were also used as a holder for perfume bottles, flasks, vinaigrettes, pipes, sewing accessories, smelling salts and makeup.

A useful type of cane held tools including miniature microscopes, barometers, cameras and even fishing poles. Doctor canes could hold a secret stash of medicines and medical supplies.
A doctor's gadget cane.
A gentleman would never leave home without his walking stick.
An explorer's gadget cane.
A musical cane was designed to hide a violin bow.
Sometimes vintage walking sticks and umbrellas with gadgets were used to hold a man's grooming kit, so a 19th century dapper gentleman could maintain his mustache at a moments notice, see below.
Umbrella handle
There is a mirror on one side.
Mustache comb is other side.
This cane held small grooming accessories, allowing a gentleman to shave on a whim.
In the early 1920s, canes included ladies compacts as part of the handles. Usually made of sterling, the lids would lift up to reveal a mirror and powder area. The compact lids were often enameled or had ornate designs in the silver.
The handle is a silver jester head.
The hat pulls back to reveal a vinaigrette.

Collectible canes have four basic parts in common: handle, collar, shaft, and ferrule or tip. The parts and how they are put together, along with the material of the cane tell us the story of their manufacture, age and authenticity. As canes were meant to be used, even the gadget canes, it is expected to find wear on almost all walking sticks.
Perfume bottle in ivory.
Ivory container, most likely perfume bottle.
Vinaigrette concealed in the handle.
Most of the canes in the Perfume Passage collection are gadget canes, however other types of canes with ornate handles are also on display. Most decorative canes have figural handles and you can find every animal, creature or historical figure as part of the handle.

Canes that are considered folk art are made of wood and are highly ornate or carved. They are usually formed from a single piece of wood. As there is no seam between the shaft and handle, you can see the difference between a vintage folk art style cane and a newer import.
Here are examples of folk art canes, courtesy of Heritage Auctions Catalogs
This 3 1/4" egg shaped glass with painted flowers is the handle for a walking stick. The center opens to reveal a glass perfume.
As collectors it is important to be aware of the "marriage" of old pieces put together as part of a gadget cane. It doesn't necessarily take away from the purpose of the stick, it's just good to know that not all of the pieces of the cane are original.

A 1920s ladies compact or lipstick can easily be attached to a shaft of a simple vintage stick. Small swords, compasses and cigar cutters can be adhered to a sturdy cane, becoming a gadget stick.
Like all collectibles, if you like it and it tells a story that interests you, then add it to your collection. Educating ourselves on the history and purpose of gadget canes help us recognize the difference between an original and a marriage.
Walking stick with a perfume vial in the shaft.
Brass handle with etching.
The handle of this walking stick is extremely heavy, possibly composed of iron. It is a child nestled on branches, surrounded by a snake. In the shaft is the perfume vial.
This embossed brass compact is adorned with two horses.
A parasol would also contain a gadget component. In this one we discover a compact with its puff and mirror.
Another Vanity Gadget
Compacts that are in the shape of an object are known as figurals. But figural vanities, like canes, can also be gadget-y. So it makes sense that some ladies hand fans fit into the figural and gadget categories.

Novelty hand fans that are also compacts are similar to canes in several ways--both were meant to be used, date from the early 1900s and served a dual purpose. While they were not only fashionable and functional, they tell a story that is interesting and intriguing.  And just like the gadget canes, are extremely collectible.
Palm leaves were used as early fans and were followed by the invention of folding fans around the 7th century. By the late 19th century, fans were made in every country, designed for all occasions including weddings, funerals, advertising and souvenir.

As a fashion statement, the gadget, or figural compact fan was produced in the early 20th century. They hid a small compartment for face powder, along with a powder puff and mirror. Many of these fans were made of celluloid, an early plastic.

The fan pictured below is the La Brise Pocket Fan, a mechanical hand fan patented in 1913 by Simon Dick of England. It's manually operated by pressing the chrome lever in and out, allowing the celluloid blades to turn rapidly. A lift up section revealed the mirror and area for powder. Of course it doesn't fan to a high standard but could still provide a small breeze!
An early advertisement for the La Brise fans stated they were "as dainty as a butterfly's wing." Amazing that they survived as they were meant to be used and were made of celluloid, which could be extremely fragile.
Another celluloid compact fan was made in Germany in the 1920s. It's 4" long and is rectangular in shape. Sliding a small knob released the small fan blades at the top. The bottom half of the fan lifts open to reveal the powder area, puff and mirror. Again, amazing that it survived!

As gadget canes have been generating a lot of attention after our video presentations at the recent convention and on YouTube, we thought we'd share these other fascinating gadget vanity items that are on display at Perfume Passage.
They Really Used These!
Several recognizable real, fictional and cartoon characters throughout history were know for carrying classy canes. They used them with confidence and when we think of their image, their canes also come to mind.
Willy Wonka was the crazy chocolatier from the children’s book Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. His image would be incomplete without his cane.
The Riddler was a supervillain who stood up to Batman with his iconic question-mark handled cane. Actor Jim Carey twirled and spun the cane around while laughing maniacally in his portrayal of the character in the 1995 Batman Forever movie.
The Penguin, another evil character trying to hurt Batman, waddled around using an umbrella for a cane. The curved handle of his umbrella was a common shape for a walking cane handle. Everyone of his umbrellas were gadgets in some for of weapon..
Fred Astaire, an actor, dancer, singer and choreographer, was an influential dancer who starred in over 30 musical films. His cane tricks while dancing is unforgettable!

Gandalf, the popular wizard character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, carries a variety of canes in the series.
Did You Know...
  • A collector of canes/walking sticks is called a rabologist.

  • Vintage canes are generally fairly light in weight, usually about 8 to 12 ounces.

  • Newer canes, especially those with solid brass gadgets and door knob-style handles, often weigh 1-1/2 to 2 pounds.

  • If your cane is too long, it's harder to pick it up and move it. If your cane is too short, you will lean to one side, which can throw you off balance.

  • Tippling canes, or tipplers, with hidden vials used to carry alcohol. They became popular during the Prohibition years in the US.

  • GPS canes are cutting-edge and unique to the market but are quickly growing in popularity.
Treasure in our collection:
This vanity cane features a 2-1/4" round sterling top with a Niello (enamel) scene that depicts Hanuman and Sovann Maccha. It opens to reveal a mirror and area for powder. It has English hallmarks that date the cane to 1927.
The country is next to Thailand and they share a mermaid, who only appears in the south east Asian versions of Ramayana (Sanskrit epic tales of ancient India). The Thai people call her Suvannamaccha while in Khmer (official language of Cambodia), she is known as Sovann Maccha.

This pretty mermaid, usually seen clothed in gold textiles, is the princess daughter of a demon, and the leader of her own pack of mer-warriors. The story goes that Hanuman, the monkey general of Prince Rama, was on a quest to find the prince’s wife, Sita. She had been kidnapped by Sovann Maccha’s evil father.

Upon orders from her dad, the mermaid attempted to stop the general and his crew from building a bridge across the ocean to Sri Lanka to find Sita. Hanuman and Sovann Maccha tried to battle it out, but during the fight, they fell in love with each other. After Hanuman persuaded Sovann Maccha to support Prince Rama’s reunion with Sita, the mermaid let the general and his men build the bridge without further disturbance.

It ended all ended happily ever after and before he left, Hanuman gifted her a seed that would later on become their son.

This folktale is still popular in Cambodia today, and is retold through the dance of Hanuman and Sovann Maccha. Images of them have appeared on vanity items over the years.
Share our newsletter with your friends and encourage all to sign up!
We noticed that many of our fans and friends are not receiving our newsletters as they have not signed up for it. We do not take the liberty to add anyone's email address without their interest or consent. Below you will find a link to add your email directly to our Constant Contact account.

We do not share, sell or distribute our email contacts under any circumstances.

Don't wait another day, please share our newsletter with anyone you know who may not be receiving it or would be interested in learning more about Perfume Passage. Click on the link below and stay in the know.

We Look Forward to Seeing You Once We Safely Open Again, Soon.

Located in the Chicagoland area, the Perfume Passage Foundation is 38 miles northwest of downtown Chicago and 25 miles from O'Hare International Airport.

Types of tours include:

  • Private docent-guided tours
  • Group tours
  • Symphony of Scents and Sounds