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Friday, June 20, 2008

Even more on Canes!

I got a great comment today on my canes post. This all started with this post, where I questioned a cane in a picture as to whether it would only be the wealthy that carried one of these. Well the gentleman (Ed St. Germain) that originally posted the pictures on his site, emailed me back about it all, which I posted here. Then just today I got a great comment on that post from Rick Randall, and I wanted to pull it out of the comments and share it with all of you, cause you know I'm all about sharing here. And I want to encourage more of you to leave me comments teaching me something new, cause I have a deep need and willingness to learn. Anyway, here is his great comment:

The reason that a cane became a mark of a physician is simple.


Not only are the smells associated with untreated (by 21st Century standards) disease quite repulsive, but it was believed that disease was passed along via miasmas (bad smells -- in fact, malaria means "bad air").

The cane has a perforated hollow head which is filled with strong smelling herbs and such -- think potpouri on steroids. The idea was that, by overwhelming the bad odors, not only did one avoid the revolting smells, but one protected himself from the disease vector. Both silver and gold were used extensively by physicians.

Note that in engravings and such where the artist is trying to identify a character as a physician, he will invariably be holding his cane head to his nose.

Women of stature or who anticipated working in an area where strong foul odors would be encountered would often do the same thing, except using a locket (or, if poorer, a small linen wrapped packet) on a ribbon instead of a cane. Unfortunately, I cannot go into detail on women's fashions, as my knowledge of them is limited to what I have picked up by osmosis.

Rick Randall
Surgeon and Dentist
British Detatched Hospital

Very interesting and it makes perfect sense! I have heard somewhere in the past (8th grade history? Was I fully awake in that class?), that disease was thought to be spread by bad odors (which I would guess there were a lot of them back then) and they carried these good smelling things to help ward off disease. I never realized they put it right in their canes! Very interesting.

Here are 2 websites that Rick left. I want to point you to them for him, since he was kind enough to share his information with me, I’ll share his with you. Thanks Rick!

Believe me yours faithfully,

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