(1) At the present time there is, comparatively speaking, no limit to the material that can be turned to account for the purpose of walking and umbrella stick making; indeed there is always a keen look out being kept up for new sources of material, and a constant introduction of novelties, both in the sticks themselves and in the adaptation of them to meet the demand of fashion. So great, varied, and numerous are these demands, that of late years, especially in Continental countries, many persons have taken up with the cultivation of sticks of certain kinds, exclusively to supply the walking-stick market. In this country, land is generally of too high a value for it to be placed under such a system of culture, though quite recently large quantities of ash saplings, in which the roots have all been directed in one way to form what is known as cross-heads, have been grown in the county of Surrey.
Some 20 years ago the first collection ever got together illustrating the materials used for walking sticks was presented to the museum of the Royal Gardens, Kew; and quite recently this collection has been entirely revised and augmented by the same firm which originally presented it, namely, Henry Howell & Co., of Old Street, St. Luke's.
Forest produce from all parts of the world is here deposited. From the East and West Indies, Singapore, Java, China, and other eastern countries, are derived a great variety of sticks, principally, however, belonging to the bamboo and palm tribes. The sticks, as required for the workshops, are drafted from the stores. Some are so crooked that they require a great deal of straightening before anything else is done with them, and this straightening process is one of the most interesting and remarkable. On the top of a very hot stove is a heap of sand, in which the sticks are plunged, and kept there till they have become quite pliable. The workman then takes the crooked stick while it is still hot and inserts it into a notch cut in a stout board, placed at an angle inclined from him, and bends and strains it, occasior-ally casting his eye along it to see that it is straight, and when perfectly so it is thrown down to cool, and when cold it is quite rigid, without the slightest fear of it ever going back to its natural crookedness. In this way some of the most irregular and apparently worthless sticks are made to assume an appear- ' ance almost impossible, when we consider that the workman has nothing but practice and a well trained eye to guide him.
Heat is a very important element in the manipulations of a stick-maker, and produces very different effects on the several kinds of woods, the degree of heat necessary to straighten one kind of stick being often sufficient to completely spoil another kind. The same power which makes a crooked stick straight is applied to make a straight one crooked, and so we find that the rigid stems of bamboos, partridge canes, and all the various kinds of English sticks which are required to be curled or twisted, are by the application of heat made to assume almost any shape or form. Thus, ladies' sunshade handles at the present time, especially those of bamboo or partridge cane, are twisted and even tied into double knots.
By far the largest number of sticks used are those known as natural sticks, that is, saplings of trees or climbing plants, where the roots have sufficient character to form handles or knots. These are always more in demand, whether for walking, umbrella, or sunshade sticks, than those that are cut from the solid, like letter-wood, ebony, boxwood, beef-wood, partridge-wood, etc. Messrs. Howell, with the view of bring-ing to light undeveloped resources, hare had some notes drawn up and circulated amongst their correspondents, on the points to be observed in collecting raw sticks, canes, etc, for walking sticks, umbrella handles, etc. The total length should not be less than 42 in., end to end, and if possible they should be 48 in. The best sizes are of the diameter of £-1 in., measured about midway; they should not be larger than 1 1/4 in. It is indispensable that the diameter should gradually diminish from the root, or handle, to the point, so that the stick is not "top-heavy." It is always better, when possible, to send sticks with some kind of handle; if the plant be pulled up, the root should be left quite rough and untrimmed; if a branch be cut off, a part of the parent branch should be left on to form a knob or crutch handle.
Sticks without handles can be used, especially if they are nicely grown and have any peculiarity of structure or colour; but if there is any handle, however small, it should not be cut off. Young saplings of the different kinds of palms, bamboos, etc, should always have the root left on. Occasionally the form of the root or handle part is attractive, while the stick itself is weak and defective; in such cases the handles only should be sent, and they should measure 15-18 in. long. In sending specimens of new sticks, it is better to send only small quantities, say one or two dozen, at most, of each kind, then if approved, further quantities can be asked for. Specimens of anything remarkable for form or colour, whether in the roots or stems of woody, herbaceous, or reedy structures, should be sent, as sometimes the most unlikely things are found to possess value for use either as umbrella handles or walking sticks.
It will be seen from these notes that, as before stated, the chief demand is for natural sticks, many of which lend themselves readily to the varied designs so necessary for ladies' sunshades. Not many years since the whole of the machinery in use was worked by hand, but in consequence of it being necessary to turn out very large orders with great rapidity, steam power was introduced, which sets in motion band and circular saws, planes, and rasps, with the result that a stick of the toughest description can be converted into a marketable article in a very short time. So dexterous do the workmen become in the use of these tools that they seldom make even the slightest error in their work, and the rapidity with which the workers in gold and silver mounting perform their delicate manipulations is remark-able* Besides the precious metals, a great variety of valuable stone mounting is effected in this department, amongst the stones used being Mexican onyx, agate, jasper, various marbles, and occasionally even the more precious stones, including diamonds.