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Best Things First: Rain Men

William Kissel

Contrary to popular opinion that has undoubtedly been perpetuated by Britain’s climate, the English did not invent the umbrella. The word, and presumably the origin, derives from Italy. However, no one offers a larger selection of umbrellas or more expert advice on their care than London’s James Smith & Sons (+44.20.7836.4731, www.james-smith.co.uk), a survivor from the Victorian era and the oldest, most diverse shop of its kind.

The shop, now operated by the fifth generation of the family that founded it, carries thousands of umbrellas and walking sticks, ranging from inexpensive utilitarian models to elaborate, handmade designs fashioned from carved beechwood, ebony, snakewood, and other exotic materials. More stirring are the antique walking sticks and umbrellas. Many of the antique sticks include hidden compartments for cash and flasks, and some of the antique umbrellas have been designed with Art Deco–style beaded handles.

As difficult as it is to imagine not finding what you want here, the shop has its own workshop where it offers the unusual service of hand-cutting sticks and umbrellas to suit the client. The craftsmen will even custom-fit ferrules, bands, and straps on request.

Every purchase comes with proper care instructions, such as advice to periodically soak cherrywood sticks in engine oil to prevent the bark from falling off.

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