The 1910 French craze for “secret weapon” walking sticks

By 1910, the mystique of the Parisian “apache” street gangsters had fully piqued the curiosity of the bourgeoisie via works of tabloid journalism and popular fiction. Middle- and upper-class “slummers” eagerly consumed news reports of the most recent apache outrages, attended classes in “la langue verte” (the colourful Montmartre back-alley argot) and elevated the exploits of gangsters such as “the Panther” and “Golden Helmet” to the status of urban folklore.

Above: a postcard satirising the popular image of the apaches of Montmartre.

Manufacturers were quick to jump on the bandwagon, producing clothing and accessories that fed into (and from) the apache craze. Among these were various gimmicked walking sticks containing secret weapons that might, in theory, be employed against apache muggers, who were infamous for wielding a variety of unusual weapons of their own, including knuckle-duster rings and even porcupine armour.

Despite intimations of an ad-hoc arms race between street gangsters and bourgeois gents, most of these weapons were probably, in reality, more often simply shown off as macho accoutrements. An article in The Sphere of 17 December, 1910 displayed the latest trends in anti-apache weapon canes:

The “bayonet stick” featured a spring-loaded blade which popped out of the handle, transforming the caneĀ into a short spear.

The “rifle stick” included a lightweight shoulder stock attachment, presumably to be used when fending off apache muggers from a great distance.

The elegant derby handle of the “revolver and dagger” stick pulled out to reveal a six-shot revolver and a stiletto blade.

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