By way of eBay historic cane returns to Narragansett

An important piece of Narragansett history has been missing for nearly 25 years, but as of Monday, it was officially put back where it belongs.

At a quick glance, the long wood and gold cane may just look like an ordinary cane, but with the name of every person who has ever owned it inscribed on it, it's more like the Stanley Cup of walking sticks.

It turns out, the cane is a piece of Narragansett history, and the story as to how it came back to the town of Narragansett is a long one.

Back in 1909 the editor and publisher of the Boston Post had an idea for a promotion.

The newspaper ordered about 700 canes wood and 14 carat gold canes custom made, and then handed them out to cities and towns throughout New England. Mayors then in turn, honored the oldest citizen in town by giving them the cane, a tradition that continued on and on for decades every time that 'oldest resident' passed away.

But around 1989 Narragansett's precious gold cane went missing.

Shirley Eastham is the Secretary and 'Jack of all trades' for the Narragansett Historical Society.

She said, "And It was missing for twenty four years! And lots of towns canes are missing you know? Some destroyed, some lost."

But this cane had not been lost after all.

Once it was found, it was Eastham who received a phone call.

"It was the strangest thing. It was early February, and Sara Isherwood from Rhode Island Internet Consignment and Sales in Lincoln, Rhode Island, called me to get a little more background on the cane, I had never heard of it," Eastham said.

But after digging around, she realized the significance of the ornate walking stick.

"We found out it was quite a famous can , in its day, it was a big promotional thing for the Boston Post Newspaper. It was very successful for years so, I started thinking, 'My gosh, this cane really should be here," Eastham said.

Eastham thinks the neatest part of the cane is the names etched into the gold near the handle.

She said, "So we have about a dozen names, and they're grand old Narragansett names like Teft, Gardner, Boss."

Eastham began to wonder how the internet consignment shop had gotten the cane.

But she didn't have to look too far, or ask too many questions to find out.

Antique fanatic Michael Collins of Rehoboth says he found and purchased the cane at a consignment shop near East Greenwich.

Collins said he didn't know exactly what it was, but he knew it had value.

"I deal with a lot of old canes, and I knew this was just a very unusual cane, and thought it would do very well," he said.

And it turns out Collins was right.

"It is a very important part of the town's history," Eastham said.

Luckily for the local historical society, the man who bought the cane also knew exactly who to consign it to for the most exposure.

Collins said, "This is my livelihood, so I buy and I give it to the number one 'EBay-er' in the world, and see what he can do."

And that 'EBay-er' is Collins' friend and colleague bill Wolstenholme.

Wolstenholme said, "We're not the number one EBay site in the world, but for antiques, we are number one. We get valuable and rare items like this cane all the time."

But after Wolstenholme found out about the historic value of the piece, he pulled the cane off the EBay auction block, informed all interested bidders the 'gem' was no longer for sale, made a ton of phone calls, did lots of paperwork, and together Wolstenholme and Collins decided to donate the cane back to the town of Narragansett as a gift.

"It's wonderful to have it back! It's such an amazing piece, with such a great story. It will generate so much interest from the public, and will be good for the Historic Society in so many ways," Eastham said.

Wolstenholme said, "Over the years Ebay has been a great re-uniter. It's a great way of helping to put things in the right place."

Collins was delighted about the cane's connection with the town, especially since it was his keen eye for valuable antiques that helped to bring it home.

On Monday night the Narragansett Historical Society in conjunction with Collins, the antique buyer, and Wolstenholme the EBay expert presented the cane to the Narragansett Town Council, making the gift official.

"The cane is back where it really belongs, and both Bill and I are just absolutely delighted that it's a happy ending," Collins said.

Eventually the wood and gold cane will be displayed under glass at the Narragansett Town Hall for all to see.

If you have any information about the old cane, where it may have been all these years, or the general background of the walking stick promotion, you're asked to please contact the Narragansett Historical Society at 401 783 8907.