Tuesday - 30 September 2014

Victorian whalebone cane takes £27,000

06 June 2013Written by Roland Arkell

Warwickshire saleroom Bigwood of Teddington, Stratford-on-Avon sold this mid 19th century whalebone cane for an extraordinary £27,000 at their latest sale.

Canes of this type, typically worked by American and European sailors for sale to natural history-curious Victorians in the port cities, come in many different guises.

This example was a particularly developed example, carved in five distinct sections with 'architectural' barley sugar twist columns, inlaid in tortoiseshell and baleen and set to the top with a Victorian silver coin.

The decoration covered a full three-quarters of the cane's 3ft 1in (94cm) length and it was pleasingly straight - not always the case in canes worked from the jawbone of a whale.

Dominic Strickland of Kensington Church Street cane specialists Michael German Antiques was among its many admirers - he described it as "a belt and braces design including all the elements you like to see" - but conceded the market for such things appeals far beyond the cane collecting community into the folk art world.

Multiple Bidders

The auctioneers, who estimated this local find at £1500-2500 for the sale on May 30, took bids from five phone bidders, numerous commission bids and buyers in the saleroom before it sold to a dealer thought to be bidding for a collector from the Midlands area.

The price reflected the sustained popularity of whaling canes both in the UK and in North America but is by no means a record for a mariner's cane sold in the UK.

In August 2012, Perry and Phillips, auctioneers in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, sold a cane richly inlaid (perhaps by a whaler from New Bedford, Massachusetts) with tortoiseshell pictorial scenes including an eagle, stars, whales and a whaleboat for £46,000.

The buyer's premium at Bigwood was 18%.

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