Anthony Moss and his wife Deanna have been buying all sorts of antiques for the past 50 years but for the past 20-plus years Moss has focused on collecting walking sticks and canes. His book on the subject was published in September 2021.
Here he tells ATG how it all began.
ATG: How and when did you get the collecting bug?
Anthony Moss: Collecting has always been my craving, starting at the tender age of nine, collecting books. Coming from an inherently poor working-class family, we had little personal possessions, so when I married Deanna 55 years ago we bought Victorian furniture as it was cheap.
In the 1970s our appetite expanded to encompass a wide range of antiques and collectables and I became fascinated with writing instruments, nibs, pencils and early pens. I was an original member of The Writing Equipment Society (WES) founded by Phillip Pool (of The Penman, Drury Lane).
Deanna and I always imagined that we were antique dealers. Over 50 years, we regularly made early morning calls to the fairs and markets as dealers, collecting items for our stock. We were passionate collectors, buying a wide range of smalls, from nutcrackers, treen, bronzes, whistles, counter bells, modern first editions and much more.
What drew you to sticks and canes?
In 1998 my Deanna made the mistake of buying me a few walking canes, and thus my passion as a rabologist* began.
Whether as a dealer or collector, the only way to gain knowledge is to handle items and talk to dealers. Yes, you make many mistakes and buy fakes, but that is the best way to learn your trade. This way, you build an appreciation of real quality, craftsmanship and gain experience.
* Rabology is the English term for the scientific study of walking sticks; the ‘rabologist’ is a collector or student of walking sticks.
What is the difference between a cane and a walking stick?
You carry a cane and walk with a stick.
What elements do you look for when considering a purchase?
Initially, I had little idea what to collect and looked for craftsmanship and beauty. Over time, learning from two of my key dealers, Paul Meyer and Nillie Leson Smith, I knew what was best to collect and was selective. Later, I looked for rarity, artistry, and missing examples to make the collection more representative of the range of walking canes produced over the centuries. This encompassed the 15th century up to the 1940s and to the present day.
Where do you find items to buy?
Besides the online auctions, on eBay, online and fairs, I am in touch with a network of dealers in the UK, US, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France and Italy. Unless you are confident, buying from a dealer, although generally more expensive, gives you some guarantee of provenance and condition. Also, you have more opportunities to find rare examples.
How would you classify your habit?
Collecting is like controlled hoarding, and it’s an illness and an obsession. The thrill is the discovery, and as you wander around a fair, your eyes are trained to only see walking canes. I am not driven by buying only the best but finding a rare example and a missing specimen to add to the A&D Antique Walking Cane Collection. The thrill is also seeing a cane that the seller does not correctly classify – a hidden gem.
What is the most you have ever spent on an item for your collection?
While over the years I have been able to buy walking canes at reasonable prices, if I want a unique or fantastic example to add to the collection, I have had to spend up to £20,000 for a rare cane. However, generally, I have paid a few hundred pounds for most canes over the years and about £3000 to £5000 for some finer examples.
How extensive is your collection?
The A&D Antique Walking Cane Collection consists of more than 2500 walking canes and over 8000 images.
Have you sold any items from your collection?
No, I have not. Only at one time did I consider selling the cheaper, less attractive canes to cull the collection.
Is there one item you are still looking for?
There is always a missing example that is a must-have and each month I still keep looking and trawling for some exciting cane to acquire. So I still buy the occasional cane that is offered to me. The collection is extensive; nevertheless, I will buy it, especially an Art Deco cane or a rare example.
What advice would you give a young collector?
The essential advice would be to buy quality, not quantity – a collection of 15 excellent walking canes is far better than a collection of rubbish. Building a collection of some 30-40 walking canes does not have to be expensive, as the average cane can be purchased for below a few pounds at an antique fair.
Also please beware of the gadget walking canes as they are very often faked and created to deceive. After a time, the collector can spot the genuine article.
I hope my book will inspire and interest new converts to collecting canes. The intention is to encourage the new collector to explore how the walking cane, the parasol, and the umbrella acquired their place in fashionable society and how they maintain their relevance even today.
When did you decide to write a book? How long did it take?
I had started to draft the book in 2016 and commenced taking images of the collection before my approach to a publisher. [After a first attempt fell through] I later contacted US firm Rowman & Littlefield on January 3, 2020, and after initially turning down my proposal, fortunately they agreed to publish my book. However, Covid delayed the publication. Therefore, it took nearly five years to bring to the market. It was finally published in September 2021.
What was the aim of the book?
To bring to life a picture of a bygone era, a time when ‘the cane was king’. In this way, I wish to educate the student, collector, historian, and researcher how the cane played such an essential role in fashion.
From the very start, through to the emergence of haute couture, through the Jazz Age and culminating with the Second World War, the cane has held sway. Surprisingly, even today, the walking cane has retained its magic and is used in theatre, fashion shows and by more flamboyant dressers or dandies.
Do you plan to write more?
I have two in the pipeline. The sequel will contain a catalogue of the entire collection and a new book on antique writing instruments. It has a working title of Mightier than the sword – a visual history of the Pencil and Pen.