Antiques Roadshow hasn’t visited Washington since the PBS show’s first season in 1996, but Washingtonians can count on local auction houses to showcase equally quirky local finds—like 215 “rare and important canes and walking sticks” from the collection of former ambassador Dick Carlson. Maybe more notable is the number of canes that Carlson—now at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy—didn’t give to Sloans & Kenyon for its November auction. In his home, office, and second home in Maine, he estimates about 3,000.
“This is a little weird,” he says. “I ran for mayor of San Diego back in the early ’80s and walked precincts and knocked on doors and shook hands, and if I got into long-enough conversations with people, I would ask if they had walking sticks.”
He picked up others while traveling as director of Voice of America in the ’80s and while serving as ambassador to the Seychelles off the African coast, which accounts for his half dozen walking sticks made of shark vertebrae.
Also in his collection: a stick that doubles as a shotgun, a cane made from the belt buckles of French Foreign Legionnaires captured in Vietnam, a walking stick given to him by former Zaire president Mobutu Sese Seko, and a cane that belonged to Fred Astaire
One of Carlson’s favorites is a stick made from the femur of a man who lost his leg in the Civil War.
“That way, he could still walk around with his own leg,” Carlson says.
Carlson likes canes for their artistry but mostly because “they’ve been used by someone for something.” And sometimes they bring him unexpected cash. A carved-whalebone cane, which he bought from under a woman’s bed for $100 during his California campaign days, went for $34,500 at a September auction. Now that’s a story for Antiques Roadshow.
This article first appeared in the January 2008 issue of Washingtonian magazine.