Once Upon a Cane 9

Dr. Gregory House used one. Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt walked through history with one. Charlie Chaplin expressed himself with one. Fred Astaire danced with one. Emory Mullings of Sandy Springs collects them.

The walking cane, or walking stick, has been a gentleman’s accessory for centuries, used for self-protection, as a crutch and as a symbol for dominance.

Mullings has been intruiged by the antique walking cane, identifying elegant and intricate designs, finding a unique story and history with each one. He is one of the world’s premier cane collectors, after realizing their captivating charm.

Mulling, founder of Mulling Corporation in Sandy Springs, began acquiring antique walking canes for some 20 years and now has a collection of 750 canes. “I had an antique furniture carpenter make me a cane chest as my collection grew,” Mulling explained. A professional life coach by day, Mulling was introduced to antiques by a friend. Now, he’s one of a rather exclusive league of gentlemen.

No more than 200 collectors around the globe have more than 50 pieces or more, and Mulling is one of only 12 with such a large collection. Since antique walking cane collecting is such a rare hobby, it’s a tight-knit community. All of these collectors belong to the International Society of Cane Collectors. Mulling had the distinct honor of chairing the organization’s meeting here in Atlanta recently.

So how did he build the second most valuable cane collection in the world? Diligence, patience and working with the five most reputable cane dealers. Mulling collaborates with dealers spanning New Orleans to Paris who help unearth pieces for his collection.

There are canes that are aesthetically beautiful and also walking sticks that serve a purpose beyond assisting. The best example of this is the collection of canes known as the “Unholy Triology.”   Mulling is the only person to possess all three. He explains, “weapon canes are what people used to protect themselves with in the 16th and 17th centuries.” One cane shoots out nails, another thorns and the unholiest of them all shoots out razor blades.

He also has a cane that that transforms into a violin. Simply open the shaft to reveal the bow and strings, place the handle under your chin to play the world’s most unique violin.

While his hobby has inspired European expeditions to search for new pieces, one of his most unique gems is from Memphis, TN. “Elvis Presley gave a cane, along with a note to one of the Memphis Mafia members,” Mulling says. After Elvis died, the Mafioso fell on hard times and sold the cane to the same cane dealer that Mulling works with in New Orleans. Mulling has the hand-written note and cane among his collection. Other canes from historic notables including Winston Churchill and Salvador Dali.

The cane he’s most sentimental about, however, served just one purpose. “My late mother’s and my grandmother’s canes are my biggest treasures,” he says.