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Wood Collecting #2: Rudolph Block's Collection: Canes of Various Woods (1400 pcs. circa 1928)

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Blog entry by mmh posted 06-01-2009 05:08 AM 3111 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I am looking for the location of Rudolph Block’s collection of canes of various woods as exhibited in 1928 at the “US National Museum in Washington”. Upon his death he willed the collection to Yale University School of Forestry. The collection consisted of 1400 canes of various woods, exhibited in 10 cases. I have included two of the articles that I have found (The first sent to me by fellow LJ, Sharad N. ). I am very interested in visiting or viewing photos of this collection. I feel there would be great interest if this collection can be found and viewed and maybe photographed for members to view online or published in the International Wood Collectors Society’s journal, World of Wood.

Thus far I have contacted the Smithsonian Archives Department and the Peabody Collections at Yale.
If you should have any information that could assist locating the collection, please contact me through this blog.

Printed in The Woodworker, Vol XXX, January 1926, No386, pages 296 & 297:
Photobucket

Photobucket

Printed in The New York Times, Oct. 28, 1928:

Canes of Varied Woods In Exhibit
Rudolph Block’s Collection of Fourteen Hundred Walking Sticks Contains No Two Alike – Specimens From Many Lands by Samuel J. record, Professor of Forest Products, Yale University.

The United States National Museum in Washington recently placed on exhibition the Rudolph Block Collection of walking sticks. There are fourteen cases of them, each with 100 canes neatly arranged and accurately labeled. Fourteen hundred walking sticks and no two alike! The owner could carry a different stick every day for nearly four years. As a matter of fact, the collector never carried even one of them and never had an intention of doing so.

Since the National Museum contains so many objects of historical interest, one might suppose that these canes were remnants of such trees as the Charter Oak and the Washington Elm, or of famous old battleships and landmarks, or that the sticks themselves had been carried by illustriuous men. The collection contains no such momentoes. The only history concerned is natural history. Each cane at least it’s shank, is a specimen of the heartwood of a tree, shown in its true colors and at its best. This is the explanation for the fourteen cases in the section known by the rather formidable title of Wood Technology. The beauty imparted by the designer and artisans is only their tribute to the natural beauty and design of the woods.

Mr. Block, the collector and owner of this unique exhibit, is a New York newspaper man and short-story writer known to the reading world as Bruno Lessing. In assembling from the remote corners of the earth the raw woods for the sticks and the wide range of attractive substances for the handles and utilizing them as a painter uses pigments he found relaxation from his profession, contacts with a different world and a new outlet for his artistic ability. He came to know and love woods, not only the rare and fancy kinds, but also the ordinary utility ones, the “Marthas of the wood world”.

“There is a simple ash which I gloat over as much as I do over any ebony or rosewood,” he once wrote. “There is a Tennessee cedar of golden hue, with little dark brown knots in it, which looks fine to me as a flaming padouk. And there are pines and poplars and willows and gums that gleam in changing lights and suggest hidden beauties and allurements as much as any snakewood, pimento, goncalo alves, kingwood, or any of the “aristocracy” of woods. But are there really aristocrats and Marthas of the wood world? Or is it merely a matter of finding a wood at its best and shaping and polishing it in a way that brings out its beauties?”

The story of this collection is a story of a hobby that ran away with the collector and took him into strange places and along pathways he had no intention of treading when first he started. Though not a scientist and having a dislike for botonay dating back to college days, the collector became a student of botanical works, made a very wide acquaintance among foresters, wood technologists and botanists everywhere, and made a valuable addition to the knowledge of woods and to the literature on the subject. So generous were the contributions of specimens from official soures that the collection ceased to be a private affair exclusively and involved an obligation for a public display. Hence the loan to the National Museum and the international interest in the exhibit.

The collector’s own story was told by him in part in The Empire Forestry Journal, of London. “It all began with a hobby for collecting walking sticks,” he wrote. “You know how it is. You see attractive walking sticks,” in the shop windows of London, of Paris, Rome and other Continental cities, and you buy them. Gazing one day at the result of various shopping tours, this idea came: “Why not get a walking stick made of every wood in the world?”

“Well, it seemed to be a good idea and I decided to carry it out. I wrote letters to all parts of the world asking all sorts of people to send me sticks of wood. While I was waiting for replies to my letters it occured to me that it might be well t look up some books on woods and find our how many different varieities there were in the world. Collectors frequently think of such things – when it is too late! I discovered that, in the few remaining years of one lifetime, I had undertaken a task that could easily occupy a dozen lifetimes.

A Generous Response.
“I never had a chance to profit by these wise discoveries, because, just at the time when I began to realize the enormity of the task I had undertaken, my first impulsive acts bore fruit. Foresters, timber merchants, Goverment officials, missionaries, travelers, steamship companies, museums and collectors, to whom, in the first blush of my enthusiasm, I had written, responded so generously with sticks of wood of every color, marking, grain and figuring under the sun that I had no alternative but to concentrate upon the task of turning them all into walking sticks.

“Then it dawned upon me that I was less interested in walking sticks than in the varieties and beauties of woods. The walking stick became merely the vehicle through which the wood expressed itself. Some woods, by their very nature, are unfitted for any practical use as a walking stick, but, nevertheless, I had them made into that form.”

Then came a confusion of names – native names which meant nothing to civilized ears, and English ones which had lost their distinctiveness because of the widely different things to which they were loosely applied. It was at this stage of the proceedings that the present writer was called in. Every stick has been as carefully classified as the present status of science will permit. To this end foresters, botanists and specialists in wood identification in various parts of the world have contributed of their expert knowledge. The catalogue with its indexes to the common and Latin names has become a recognized reference volume entirely apart from the design as a guide to the collection.

The appeal of the exhibit is by no means limited to the scientist, but extends to all who have a love for the beautiful. To the furniture and cabinet maker there are displayed as never before the choicest offerings of the forests near and remote. The manufacturer of canes and umbrella handles will find enough original ideas to last him a lifetime. The leather fancier will find all sorts of colors of leathers and skins wrought into the handles. There are also precious metals, semi-precious stones, ivory, tusks and burls, plain or ornate, and inlaid with a skill that taxed the abilities of the most skilled workman and artisans of both hemispheres. Whatever the avenue of approach, it is a collection as remarkable and interesting as it is unique. Its like does not exist.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe



19 comments so far

View grizzman's profile

grizzman

7011 posts in 1957 days


#1 posted 06-01-2009 06:22 AM

wow what an article..i cant imagine the work that was involved…i like making hiking sticks and a few larger canes i guess they would be called…but this collection is huge and worthy of finding …i would love to see it…if its found i hope there might be a way for it to be viewed….grizzman

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View mmh's profile

mmh

3421 posts in 2376 days


#2 posted 06-01-2009 08:08 AM

It seems that this amazing collection has been forgotten. It was exhibited over 80 years ago, but one would think it worthy of recognition for the vast numbers of canes and also that each cane represents a species or special graining of wood. I would imagine that some of these wood to be extremely rare. I can only hope that the collection is still intact and has not been sold and dismantled, or worst, destroyed.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View FritzFratz's profile

FritzFratz

15 posts in 1983 days


#3 posted 06-01-2009 01:54 PM

I found this link for your research:
Search All NYTimes.com

Monday, June 1, 2009
ArchivesWorld U.S. N.Y. / Region Business Technology Science Health Sports Opinion Arts Style Travel Jobs Real Estate Autos Article Preview
CANES OF VARIED WOODS IN EXHIBIT; Rudolph Block’s Collection of Fourteen Hundred Walking Sticks Contains No TwoAlike—Specimens From Many Lands A Generous Response.
E-MAIL
By SAMUEL J. RECORD, Professor of Forest Products, Yale University.
October 28, 1928, Sunday
Section: Arts

-- FritzFratz, 'Boji, IA

View FritzFratz's profile

FritzFratz

15 posts in 1983 days


#4 posted 06-01-2009 01:56 PM

I also researched ther Yale Art Museum, I think all of it, and there is no record of Rudolph Block – that’s best I can offer in the way of help.

-- FritzFratz, 'Boji, IA

View mmh's profile

mmh

3421 posts in 2376 days


#5 posted 06-01-2009 03:03 PM

Thanks for searching. I am amazed that there is so little referrence to this extensive collection. The only reason I know about it is that a fellow Lumber Jock happens to have a copy of the 1928 Woodworker magazine. How many issues of that are intact enough to read!

Either there was so little interest of such a collection, or maybe there was some political issue involved in the ownership that it was not celebrated and tucked away in a dark corner or disassembled.

Rudolph Block, as mentioned, was a newspaper man in NYC who wrote short stories under the name of Bruno Lessing. He is noted as being responsible for creating the concept of the comic strip page. I believe he may have worked for William Randolph Hearst.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View mmh's profile

mmh

3421 posts in 2376 days


#6 posted 06-01-2009 03:35 PM

Okay, the plot thickens!

I have found an article written in the NY Times on October 11, 1909. It is about a dispute with William Randolph Hearst and Justice Gaynor who was interested in running for Mayor. Apparently Mr. Hearst had pleged he would support Justice Gaynor if he ran for office and then he did not. Rudolph Block, an employee of Mr. Hearst, testified that he witnessed this agreement. This could be reason why the collection “disappeared”.

Article preview:
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C07EED8123EE733A25752C1A9669D946897D6CF

View article: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9C07EED8123EE733A25752C1A9669D946897D6CF

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View mmh's profile

mmh

3421 posts in 2376 days


#7 posted 06-01-2009 03:54 PM

Rudolph Block (aka: Bruno Lessing) Died on April 29, 1940 in Tucson, AZ.

http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10B1FFB395E1A738DDDA90B94DC405B8088F1D3&scp=1&sq=Bruno%20Lessing&st=cse

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View sharad's profile

sharad

1063 posts in 2458 days


#8 posted 06-01-2009 08:15 PM

I admire your efforts in collecting the hidden treasure and wish your search will bear fruit.
Sharad

-- “If someone feels that they had never made a mistake in their life, then it means they have never tried a new thing in their life”.-Albert Einstein

View FritzFratz's profile

FritzFratz

15 posts in 1983 days


#9 posted 06-02-2009 01:28 AM

Plus, Hearst is a graduate of Harvard, one of Yale’s biggest rivals! So, Where are the canes buried?

-- FritzFratz, 'Boji, IA

View mmh's profile

mmh

3421 posts in 2376 days


#10 posted 06-11-2009 05:55 PM

GOOD NEWS! I have found the location of the Rudolph Block cane collection of various woods. It is stored away and not on exhibit to the public. I now need to find the means of getting this great collection viewable to the public by either photographing to document, as this has yet to be done, or getting it on exhibit, or both. This most likely means 1) Connections; 2) Money; 3) Money & Connections.

If I could find a benefactor who would be interested in helping provide funds to exhibit this collection and have it photographed for prosperity and documented for publication of a book, this would be an ultimate goal. The proceeds could go to non-profit organizations such as the International Wood Collectors Society, the Smithsonian Museums, etc. .

I think it’s a shame that such an extensive collection of wood samples and artifacts have been stored and forgotten. I can only hope it has been kept in ideal storage conditions.

Anyone with ideas, suggestions, connections, etc. is welcome to contact me through my Member info or this posting.

Thanks,
Meilie
http://www.bigstickcanes.com

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View mmh's profile

mmh

3421 posts in 2376 days


#11 posted 08-31-2009 09:51 PM

UPDATE: I have been corresponding with the fellow who is in charge of the offsite collections of the Smithsonian and I have a tentative date to go to the museum to see 25 of the canes of this collection that they have there. This will be an initial introduction to the collection with access to photograph these pieces. The rest of the 1400 pieces are offsite and will need to be made accessible in the near future.

I am quite excited about actually getting this far, this quickly. I did not think that the collection would be stored in my area and I’m quite fortunate to not have to travel far. The people I have been in contact with so far, have all been so helpful and I can only anticipate getting to see these canes upclose and personal!

I am attempting to photograph them to the quality of having them published in book form and possibly some online images to stir interest. I hope that my efforts will stir up enough interest and funding to eventually get these canes on exhibit again for the public to view. All this will take time and money, so wish me luck! I will need to knock on some doors to see if anyone is interested in assisting with a grant or other monies towards this effort. I can only hope that the Forestry Department at Yale or the Smithsonian or other related group will have some interest, as I’m interested in reviving this immense collection for the public, and maybe for Mr. Block. If I have to fund this myself, so be it. I suspect it will give me something to do with my spare time for several years to come.

Stay tuned for more!

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 2539 days


#12 posted 09-01-2009 12:19 AM

Thanks for the update please keep us posted?
John Gray

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Karson's profile

Karson

34876 posts in 3054 days


#13 posted 09-01-2009 04:41 AM

Mellie: Congratulations on your search. With the advent of Google and their photos and books, They might be interested in making this available for posterity.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View mmh's profile

mmh

3421 posts in 2376 days


#14 posted 03-19-2010 06:53 AM

Well, my latest information was back in October 2009 and I had a tentative appointment with the person in charge of the Smithsonian’s storage and was promised a date to photograph some of the canes on exhibit. I have yet to hear back from them and hope they haven’t been affected by the lack of funding that this lousy economy has brought. I will be patient and hope that in the near future I’ll have the opportunity come to light.

Stay tuned!

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View Karson's profile

Karson

34876 posts in 3054 days


#15 posted 03-19-2010 02:59 PM

Sorry nothing has happened yet, but glad that you are keeping your hopes alive.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

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