A British 'walking stick' is usually a relatively simple stick used for everyday support or country walks. A 'cane' is a more formal, elegant item that is as much an accessory as a means of support. However, in American-English, the descriptions are often reversed, so that a 'cane' is the everyday, functional object, and a 'walking stick' the smarter version.
The close and personal relationship between people and walking sticks would have started with our hunter-gather ancestors, who would have carried early staffs for self-protection and support. However, it would not have been long before carved and decorated walking sticks were created in order to emphasise their owners' authority and prestige. Subsequently, walking sticks have taken many forms, from sticks concealing swords and guns, to glamorous jewel-encrusted canes and even ladies' models that contained scent atomisers and lipsticks. Some styles denoted their owners' profession or trade, for example the bishop's crosier, the bailiff's heavy-topped cane, or the shepherd's crook.
Of all nations, the British have for centuries been among the most enthusiastic users of walking sticks. Smart hardwood and formal silver-topped canes have long been a favourite accessory of an urbane gentleman, while traditional crooks, thumb sticks and hiking staffs in ash, blackthorn, applewood and hazel are always popular with the British in the country.
Many people become avid collectors of walking sticks, and are sometimes known as ambulists. Famous stick collectors have included George VI, Queen Victoria, The Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII), President Washington, Napoleon, Peter the Great and King Tutankhamun. Another keen collector, Louis XIV of France, forbade all his subjects bar the aristocracy to use walking sticks because he regarded them as a symbol of power. In more modern times, prominent walking stick users have included Prince Charles, the flamboyant celebrity boxer, Chris Eubank, and the elegant British fashion designer, Betty Jackson CBE. Other celebrities to have been seen with Classic Canes walking sticks include the comedian Dawn French, the journalist and fashion stylist Anna Piaggi, and the singers Cleo Laine and Dame Vera Lynn.
Many people need a stick for everyday support and balance. For them, their walking sticks become loyal friends, as well as a way to express their personality. It is not unusual for women in particular to amass extensive 'wardrobes' of walking sticks, to match outfits in many different colours. Modern walking sticks range from the quietly classical to the extravagantly eye-catching. Today, there is a wonderful cane for every walking stick enthusiast, whatever their personal style.
Cane Curiosa by Catherine Dike (ISBN: 2 85917 - 027-8).
Fascinating Walking Sticks by AE Boothroyd (ISBN: 9501474 00).