Collecting vintage baskets is a way to learn about the past. That is the reason many claim they collect antique and vintage baskets of all kind.
The earliest American baskets were made by Indians. Baskets were made for a variety of reasons but perhaps the most prominent was ceremonies.
Most of the first baskets were made in the southwest, they are easy to handle and can be found across the country. Although the older the basket, the more valuable it is, baskets made using old traditional methods are still considered desirable.
There are four common techniques used to make baskets – wicker, twine, plait and coils.
The pacific coast tribe known as the Pomos made coil and twine baskets for religious rituals. These baskets were mixed with fluffy feathers interwoven into them. These are some of the first handmade American baskets and are on the top of most collectors’ lists. They sell anywhere from $2,500 to tens of thousands of dollars.
Other southwestern tribes made intricately tightly woven twine baskets of grass and roots. These were meant to hold food such as vegetables, fruits and grains. Several, however, are leak-proof and used for cooking cornmeal and water.
Many types of fabrics and trees have been used to make baskets. You probably have seen many made of willow. Willow is often used in picnic and fruit baskets. Willow baskets are made from branches cut in the spring and often show their age. Older ones have a straw color with a mat finish and newer ones appear tan and glossy.
Many baskets are also made of hickory or white oak. These are often called Splints as they were cut into splints and quartered and even cut into eighths. The age of these is more difficult to determine. Hickory and white oak are usually a gray color and often are uneven.
The Chippewa of Michigan, the Penobscot of Maine and the Micmacs of Nova Scotia specialized in making sweet grass baskets from low growing grass and plants. These were harvested in the spring and cured over heat until they curled into strands for weaving. They have a sweet aroma and even if they are very old, when wet still give off a sugary smell.
American Rye baskets are most often made by the Pennsylvania Dutch. The straw is harvested when ripe and soaked in water until it is pliable enough to use for making a basket. Most often they were used for holding bread.
The Cherokee Indians used river cane which was only available in areas of North Carolina. These are tightly woven double weave baskets used for carrying water.
The Iroquois and Algonquin Indians used what has become the most popular texture known as wicker. Early designs were very intricate and were embellished to have colored ovals and stars. Gizzard baskets were often used by cowboys around a horse’s neck for holding everything from eggs to fruits.
The Makah Indians of the Pacific Northwest twisted and weaved baskets known as wabbit baskets. These were used to carry home rabbits and other small prey.
The technique of plaiting baskets was originally done by the Cherokee Indians. These are some of the most intricate of all the baskets which involve a double weave technique. Some plaiting has open hexagonal patterns which are very sought after by collectors. They are quite sturdy although they look very frail. Many times they were found lined with cheesecloth or linen.
The technique of coiling is similar to weaving yet it uses very long coils made of sweet grass, pine needles and straw wrapped together. These were used for ceremonies and take the longest to make. Some have as many as 30 stitches in one inch. These were made by a variety of Indians in the west and southwest.
Those are some of the basics of the four major basket making techniques and their history. If you find one, do not be surprised if the condition is not good. If it is brittle, wipe it with linseed oil and turpentine. Condition is always important but age and the quality of the product is most vital.
The most popular modern basket is called Longaberger from Dresden, Ohio. It was incorporated in the 1970s by Daniel Longaberger and is considered a highly collectible maker. It’s earliest handcrafted baskets are very sought after. These are clearly marked Longaberger on the bottom of baskets. People often hold Longaberger parties so their popularity has grown. The newer baskets have become very common and are not as valuable as baskets from the 1970s.
You will find there are many uses for baskets such as displaying flowers, carrying items, decoration and more. Whatever use you enjoy, baskets make a special addition to any home.
Source: Encyclopedia of Collecting