In an interesting turn of events, a valuable and beautiful Narragansett historic artifact is finding its way home on March 4th, after having gone missing 24 years ago.
On August 2, 1909, Mr. Edwin A. Grozier, Publisher of the Boston Post newspaper, forwarded to the Board of Selectmen in 700 New England towns (no cities included) a gold-headed ebony cane with the request that it be presented with the compliments of the Boston Post to the oldest male citizen of the town, to be used by him as long as he lives (or moves from the town) and at his death handed down to the next oldest citizen of the town. The cane would belong to the town and not the man who received it.
The canes were all made by J. F. Fradley & Co., a New York manufacturer, from ebony shipped in seven-foot lengths from the Congo in Africa. They were cut to cane lengths, seasoned for six months, turned on lathes to the right thickness, coated and polished. They had a 14-carat gold head two inches long, decorated by hand, and a ferruled tip. The head was engraved with the inscription, – “ Presented by the Boston Post to the Oldest Citizen of” (name of town) – “To Be Transmitted”. This was one of the most successful promotional ideas of the time.
The cane being examined by the Narrgansett Town Council
The custom of the Boston Post Cane took hold in those towns lucky enough to have them. As years went by, some of the canes were lost, stolen, taken out of town and not returned to the Selectmen or destroyed by accident. In 1930, after considerable controversy, eligibility for the cane was opened to women as well. The last name inscribed on Narragansett’s cane was R. Blanche Sullivan, who held it from 1954 to 1989, after which date it “went missing.” Some of the other names inscribed on the cane are well-known to the citizens of Narragansett – Tefft, Hazard, Gardiner, Boss, Perry, Brayman, Champlin, and Peleg Brown.
So – how did Narragansett’s Gold Cane find its way home? How this all came to be is an interesting story. In early February, Rhode Island Internet Consignment & Sales, Inc., had the cane up for auction on eBay. “Wwolst12” as RIICS Inc. is known on eBay is the #1 seller of antiques, collectibles, and art on the site. They receive consignment from 38 professional antique pickers, as they are known in the trade, in 10 states, from Maine to Virginia. These pickers have a discerning eye for items of value and purchase them from private homes, yard sales, small flea markets, and the like. Sarah Isherwood of RIICS contacted Shirley Eastham of the newly reinstituted Narragansett Historical Society to learn more about the cane’s provenance. Initially, Shirley didn’t know anything about the cane, but made some phone calls and did some research. Town Clerk Ann Irons supplied vital information, and Shirley contacted Mr. William Wolstenholme, owner of RIICS. He was also doing his own further research, and readily agreed that the cane properly belonged in Narragansett. The consignor and owner, Mr. Michael Collins agreed to donate the cane to the town saying “that is where is belongs.” Communications were slowed a little by Winter Storm Nemo, but Bill assured Shirley several times that the cane would be returned to the Town of Narragansett. He stopped the auction after the bidding had risen to over $600.
In a presentation ceremony at the March 4th Narragansett Town Council meeting at 7:30 pm, Town Council President James Callaghan will receive the cane on behalf of the town. The presentation will be made jointly by Mike Collins, one of RIICS’s top pickers and William Wolstentholme, owner of RIICS.
This all may never have happened if the Narragansett Historical Society had not been reinstituted in 2012 and had not created a website. The society’s website, www.narragansetthistoricalsociety.com, has been very helpful and instrumental for people to contact us. Although this is the most dramatic story so far, we have received numerous valuable town historic stories as well as helped people find information. The Narragansett Historical Society is proud and pleased to have played a pivotal role in being the conduit for the return of this valuable piece of town history. In researching these canes, we find there are numerous towns whose canes have “gone missing” and hope this happy ending story will help other towns recover their missing historical “oldest resident” gold canes. The town of Maynard, Mass., did a search for their missing cane for a town anniversary, and it was covered in a March 1983 issue of Yankee Magazine.
We are grateful for the quick and graceful way in which Mr. Wolstenholme and Mr. Collins responded to this situation.