I’ve got a black office umbrella, and a black house umbrella, so I’m covered — literally — whether it’s raining when I’m leaving the office and heading for home or when I’m leaving home and heading for the office. For my little system to work, though, I have to remember to take the umbrella back to its “home,” rain or shine.
That means it’s not unusual for me to be walking one way or the other with a closed-up and snapped shut umbrella that isn’t being used to shield me from the rain. And that means that, on those brief journeys, I get to enjoy some “hook time,” where I can use the umbrella’s hooked handle to twirl the umbrella windmill style, trying to do so a la Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, or carry it on my forearm, like a proper British gentleman, or use it as a cane and tap the sidewalk as I go along. The hook is crucial to such maneuvers and my innocent fun, and I got to wondering: when and why did umbrellas start to be manufactured with hooked handles?
According to The Gentleman’s Gazette, the hooked handle was added to the umbrella design in the 17th century. That website explains: “The curvature of the handle was intended to allow a servant to easily hold the umbrella at an angle to shield their employer. Although we primarily use this handle today as a method of hanging the umbrella from the arm, it still maintains its original practicality for doormen style umbrellas used by valets and doormen throughout much of the world. In fact, even in American cities like New York, it’s widely considered inappropriate for a doorman not to be prepared with a large canopy for those entering or exiting the premises.”
I’m not sure whether the servant explanation is historically accurate, but it’s certainly plausible, as anybody who has had to position their umbrella at an angle to brace it against the wind on a gusty day can attest. It’s a lot more comfortable to do so with a hooked handle than a straight handle, because the hooked handle really allows you to get a firm grip. But if the hooked handle was invented for that utilitarian purpose, it’s certainly provided other important benefits that perhaps weren’t fully appreciated in those pre-Singin’ In The Rain days.
Beggars can’t be choosers, and if I’m caught somewhere during an unexpected rainstorm I’ll use any umbrella to keep the rain off. But if I’ve got a choice, give me an umbrella with a hook.