Although the safety of the city was significantly improved during Victorian times, many gentlemen still carried some sort of weapon for protection. Carrying a sword was no longer in fashion so, although walking canes were not originally designed for orthopedic use but for fashion (such as the collectors’ antique walking canes seen today), they were the de facto choice of weapon for many gentlemen. Although most did not have any training in fighting, there were actually some schools teaching “cane-fighting”. Techniques taught in these schools were based on the traditional European system of stick-fighting, and other sword-fighting systems. There were quite a few manuals written in the 18th and 19th centuries, and you can even find some written in the early 20th century. One of most famous cane-fighting books of the early 20th century is A. C. Cunningham’s “The Cane As A Weapon” and original copies can still be found occasionally in used-book stores.
Not surprisingly, some canes actually had a long blade installed. The sword canes became more popular as the the carrying of swords declined and firearms replaced them as the main weapons. The popularity of these sword walking sticks peaked around the mid-18th century, but they were still used into Victorian times. The length of the blade changes significantly among different types of sword walking sticks. Some sword canes are more like a knife cane. Some have a double blade, others have a single blade, and still others have a sharp point for thrusting, but not for cutting. Because it was simple to construct, the last type, a sharp-point sword, is currently most commonly found in antique sword walking canes from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Since the sword canes, like walking canes in general, were also a display of the owner’s taste, they were often extensively decorated. From ancient times, most deadly weapons have often been artistically decorated, as you can find in many museums. The same is true of the sword walking sticks. Many cane handles were made from ornate silver, carved wood, the finest ivory, and even embellished with jewels and crystals. These ornamentation actually made the sword canes difficult to use as weapons, but many preferred appearance over practicality.
Sword canes, however impractical in modern times, still attract many men’s imaginations, and are often used in movies. Recent Victorian-era movies, such as “Sherlock Holmes” and “Wolfman”, displayed extremely attractive sword walking sticks. In “Sherlock Holmes”, Jude Law, as Dr. Watson, carries around an ornate round-head bachelor cane with a slim blade. It is a very handsome thing for a young professional to carry. In “Wolfman”, Anthony Hopkins, father of the Wolfman, has a heavily decorated wolf-head sword cane with a thicker blade – more like a saber. This cane was, again, very suitable for an established old gentleman.
You can still buy many models of sword walking sticks, but the majority do not come with a sharp edge for good reason! These are more for decorative use, and often used in theater. Some sword canes come with a stainless steel blade that can be sharpened (if it is not already sharp). They are not “real” swords, but sharp enough to cut though many things.
You need to be careful, however, about buying and carrying sword canes. The sword walking sticks is considered a concealed weapon and if your state has strict rules there are also heavy penalties for breaking those laws. Some states, such as Massachusetts and New York, prohibit sales of sword canes and you cannot buy them from here. You can buy sword canes out of state and may take them home, but you can’t carry them outside of the house (which actually makes it difficult to transport the sword from out of state to your home). Please pay attention to your state’s laws regarding the sword walking canes.
In any case, please enjoy the antique sword walking cane as an art form, not as a weapon. The most deadly thing can be a most beautiful art form – or the other way around – depending on its use. I hope that you enjoy the beauty in its creation, rather than its potential for destruction.