Physicians' canes


Physicians' canes


Traditionally, canes and physicians had a close association. In Greek mythology the deity Asclepius, who was associated with medicine and health, wielded a rod with a serpent wound round it. The physicians cane came into vogue in Britain in the eighteenth-century, after the fashion of cane carrying crossed the Channel from France. The cane was associated with the professions, emphasising the masculinity of intellectual rationality rather than physical prowess. Physicians’ canes were often passed from one physician to the next, some for centuries. Their popularity began to decline in the early nineteenth-century, but the tradition of the physicians cane carried over into the twentieth-century, mostly through portraiture.

The Royal College of Physicians has a total of nine canes including the presidential ‘gold-headed’ cane’. Acquired over several years, the canes are united in their type (seven are definitely of the ‘decorative’ variety) but differ significantly in their designs, thus making them an interesting and diverse collection.


18th century - 20th century

Items in the Physicians' canes Collection

William Cullen's Cane
This cane was presented by Mr Craig to the College in 1853. It had originally been owned by Dr William Cullen (1710-1790).

This cane was taken on by the College and treasured as ‘one of the insignia of the Vice-President’.

Gold snake…

Matthew Holmes&#039; Cane<br /><br />
This mahogany cane is simple in its design, and features a wooden head. Its appearance is smooth and glossed with slight flecking, with the small silver label inscribed 'Matthew Holmes 1903'. The cane is very heavy and measures 93 cm.

It is…

Alexander Blackhall-Morison Cane<br /><br />
This cane was presented to the College for the use of the Morison Lecturer. The cane is inscribed with the text: 'ANNO CENTESIMO A LECTURA MORISIONIENSI FUNDATA BACULUM HOC OFFICIALE D.D, ALEXANDER BLACKHAIL- MORISION MEDICINAE DOCTOR COLLEGH REGALIS…

Presidential cane<br /><br />
This cane was presented to the President of the College in 1831 by Dr William Montcreif, Fellow and Librarian of the College. The detail on the head of the cane has made it possible to identify it in numerous portraits on display throughout the…

Plaited snake cane
The history of this cane is unknown but its symbolism is strongly Scottish. Note the well worked thistles and woven tweed-like appearance. The snake connects it to the medical profession.

A snake twined around a cane has been a symbol of medicine…

Physician&#039;s cane<br /><br />
A cane consisting of a glossed cherry wood finish, and modest head, it is significantly altered from the uniform appearance of the malacca canes. The bottom of the cane has a rubber casing indicating that perhaps this cane was actually a walking aid…

Physician&#039;s cane<br /><br />
Malacca cane with a brass top. A floral design is engraved at the top along with dates and initials. The dates range from (18)80 to (18)89.

The initials are as follows: 80: C.H.M.D, H.A.P. 81: J.W.B.H, J.B.T., R.H.B., 82: N.T.B., F.W,N.H.,…

Physician&#039;s cane
Wooden cane with brass top and bottom. Top brass is embossed with a floral motif. A tassel is also attached.

Richard Bright&#039;s Cane<br /><br />
The cane originally belonged to Dr Richard Bright (1789-1858) who was made licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1816.

Dr Bright has been considered the father of nephrology, the branch of medicine that investigates…