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 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