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by Laura Libert, Contributing Curator

Lean on Me:
Walking sticks from the collection of The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

tot1The majority of walking sticks encountered today in the United States are from the sixty or seventy years following the Civil War. Walking sticks from the first half of the nineteenth century are scarce, and those from before 1800 are rare. The late nineteenth century, the peak of the walking stick's popularity, was marked by an extreme proliferation of ornamentation, including fanciful shapes, colors, and materials.

Many walking sticks from this period were not expected to provide support but served as status symbols and were simply part of proper fashionable attire.

tot2During the nineteenth century it became widely fashionable to present a suitably engraved walking stick of good quality to a loved one, friend, or anyone held in high regard. It was not uncommon for wood to be taken from a ship and inscribed to the vessel's captain or a victorious naval commander. One historically significant example in the collection is the Independence Hall walking stick, dated 1898. Made from wood taken from an original joist of Independence Hall, this walking stick was presented to William B. Reed, Past Master and historian of Washington Lodge No. 59, from Samuel W. Pennypacker, also a member of Washington Lodge No. 59. Pennypacker would go on to serve as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1903-1907.

Walking sticks were often personally decorated for a user to identify himself as an individual or as a member of a group. A maker designed a stick to say what he wanted about himself or his world. The message might have been intended only for the bearer's friends or peer group or, alternatively, for the general public. A magnificent example of this type of personal walking stick is the Masonic/Odd Fellows walking stick, made some time in the late 19th to early 20th century. Skillfully carved in the round, this walking stick, with its many Masonic/Odd Fellows symbols and working tools, such as three interlocking rings, hourglass, ark, and crossed swords, identifies the bearer as a proud member of both fraternal organizations.

tot3Walking sticks often provided more to the bearer than just a means of support. Many walking sticks featured a hollow interior, which was used to store a variety of things, from personal documents to flasks of alcohol. A 19th century English walking stick in the collection, gentlemanly in its outward appearance, conceals a deadly secret. When the silver knob top, decorated with Blue Lodge and Chapter insignia is removed, an ivory-handled sword with brass hilt, engraved "Old Crown Lodge No. 1839," is revealed.

If you would like to learn more about walking sticks, including our most recent one acquired from Brother John R. Moore, visit the display at the Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. For additional information, be sure to take a look at American Folk Art Canes: Personal Sculpture by George H. Meyer, a recent addition to the library collection.

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