Per Wondrium Daily, the walking stick in the Smithsonian’s collection was described by Benjamin Franklin himself as “my fine crab-tree walking stick, with a gold head curiously wrought in the form of the cap of liberty.” It wasn’t the first walking aid Franklin ever had, and in some ways it could be seen as less elaborate than the bamboo cane with a hollow joint filled with cooking oil that Franklin used in experiments and play (per The Kitchen in the Cabinet). But the gold-topped stick carried with it a symbolic value — it was gifted to Franklin from a friend who aided in the cause of American independence.
That friend was the Countess of Forbach, Maria Anne. She was just one of the many in French society who were charmed by Franklin when he came there as the American commissioner. Per David McCullough’s “John Adams,” the French revered Franklin as a scientist and adored him for embodying their image of Americans as simple rustics. He happily played along, dressing in simple fashion and going about in a fur cap. Maria Anna — a full-throated supporter of the American cause whose nephew and sons served in the war — grew close to Franklin personally during his time in France.
After the Battle of Yorktown, Franklin and the countess celebrated in Paris with the Marquis de Lafayette. It was at that celebration that Maria Anna gave Franklin his gold-capped stick. The “cap of liberty” on its top was modeled after Franklin’s own fur hat.