When investing in a Nantucket Lightship Basket or a Nantucket Lightship Basket Purse, keep the following tips in mind.
There are many imitation and reproduction Nantucket Baskets and Nantucket Purse Baskets available in shops and at online auction sites. Most mass-produced or imitation Nantucket Baskets, which are made overseas and offered for sale abundantly in the Cape Cod area, are not identified as such, and this is where being an informed buyer will keep you from purchasing a poorly made, mass-produced import Nantucket-like or Nantucket-style Basket or Nantucket Handbag Purse which will only bring disappointment. Imitation Nantucket Baskets and Nantucket Basket Purses have little value other than decoration. Serious Nantucket Basket collectors pass these over very quickly!
Barlow and Farnum Nantucket "like" baskets are imported from overseas and the scrimshaw and final assembly is done in Rhode Island. Basketville brand baskets, though slightly better in quality, are mass assembled in China by Chinese workers, then imported back to the United States to be sold to wholesalers.
Today, Nantucket Lightship Baskets and Nantucket Lightship Basket Purse Handbags are woven all over the US -- and even on the International Space Station! No one, except perhaps the staunch and staid Nantucket Island residents themselves, question the weaving by non-Islanders. Weaving a Nantucket Basket is a challenge which many weavers like to challenge themselves.
STAVES & WEAVING
Check to see that the hardwood or cane staves are straight and even, without large gaps. Inspect the basket staves near the base to see that they are tapered and beveled where they are inserted into the groove in the base. The staves should not fan out towards the top of the basket or lean in one direction or the other, but be perfectly vertical from bottom to top.
Variations in the color of the cane is normal, as cane will vary from a light green, a light gray to a creamy tan to a dark tan color. The weaving should never be split, broken, or have mold or black spots. An abundance of black spots is a good indication that the cane used was not Nantucket basket quality-grade cane.
Some weavers will attempt to use only similar shades of cane in crafting a basket or purse. Others will use a more variegated color of cane. Much of this depends on the cane available at market, and in no way detract or devalues the basket, as all cane will darken to a similar shade over time.
Inspect the rims on the Nantucket basket or Nantucket basket purse. The rims are formed from a long piece of hardwood or rattan reed, which has been shaped to a flat oval or half round shape, then steam bent on a form to the precise shape of the Nantucket Basket or Nantucket Purse Basket. There will be an overlap where both ends meet. This overlap should be scarfed (thinned) to the thickness of one, and should not create a noticeable bulge. A broad piece of formed cane should be lashed into place on top of the two rims, completely covering the slim gap between the rims.
A unique quality detail that many Nantucket basket weavers use is an additional piece of rattan cane on the underside of the outside rim. This involves a bit more additional work for the weaver during lashing, and is intended as an additional finishing detail. Not all basketweavers employ this technique, but it gives the basket a more refined and finished look overall and is a detail to look for.
BASKET PURSE LID DETAILS
Basket weavers use bone, ivory or a scrimshaw knobs to attach the handle to the basket. Others will use just a brass handle pin. Basket handles should have a washer (ivory, bone or brass) between the rim and the handle of the basket to keep the handle from rubbing on the rim lashing, causing the lashing to be damaged, and an expensive repair for you. Brass, bone or ivory washers keep the basket handle from damaging the lashing on the rims during use.
The basket lid should sit square (flush) on the body of the basket, and not be twisted. Check to see that the lid sits flush on the rims of the body, and that there are no noticeable dips or gaps between the two.
Check to see that the back hinges and the front closure loops are cane wrapped leather. You should not be able to easily see the leather under the cane wraps. Imitation and reproduction purses will use fake leather or plastic hinges, which are guaranteed to fail with regular use. Having the hinges and loops replaced by a professional often exceeds the original cost of a reproduction basket. Furthermore, few if any Nantucket weavers will attempt a repair on an imitation basket, as the cost of the repair exceeds the value of the Nantucket basket itself.
I receive many emails and telephone calls from people wanting to know how to tell if the Nantucket Basket lid carving and hardware is genuine bone or ivory, or if it is plastic. The only method I am currently aware of is the Hot Needle / Pin method.
Be advised that this will damage the piece you are attempting to test!
Heat a needle/pin to almost red, and attempt to "poke a hole" in an inconspicuous area of the carving or plaque. Plastic will melt. Bone or ivory will discolor, give off an unpleasant odor and will not be penetrated by the needle/pin.
Chances are great that if your Nantucket Basket Purse is NOT an antique, and that the base has no signature of the weaver, that the pieces are not bone nor ivory. This is another reason that it is imperative to purchase your Nantucket Basket or Nantucket Purse Basket from a reputable Nantucket weaving artist - one who actually crafts the Nantucket Baskets themselves, not a wholesaler.
Examine the basket handle of the Nantucket Basket or Nantucket Basket Purse. The basket handle should not be a piece of half-round bamboo bent into shape. The basket handle should be of a hardwood (cherry, oak, ash, etc.) and should be nicely carved and steam bent over a handle form. The handle on a round basket should definitely line up horizontally with the wood grain of the basket base.
BASKET HANDLE DETAILS
Critically look at the Nantucket Basket or Nantucket Basket Purse from all sides. The rims should not overpower the overall size and shape of the Nantucket Basket or purse. Many of the poorly made reproduction baskets have huge rims in relation to the size and purpose of the basket. Other imported Nantucket baskets have rims which are much too small and thin for the intended purpose of the basket.
Make sure that the rims have been nailed with brass escutcheon pins prior to being lashed to the basket. The pins should be pre-drilled thru a stave, which will keep the rims from ever "lifting off" the basket. Rims which are only lashed on will eventually fail, and result in a very expensive repair and permanent damage to your Nantucket Lightship basket or Nantucket Lightship Purse Basket.
Make sure that the Nantucket Basket Purse lid (top) of is the same size and shape as the basket purse body itself. Many imitation and reproduction basket purse lids are too small, too large or not the similar shape as the body of the basket. Most imitation purse baskets will have a sharp bend at the "shoulder" rather than a smooth and gentle curved transition.
The cane weaving should be very tightly woven with no gaps or spaces between rows. The basket should look like it could hold water! Where the lengths of cane have been overlapped, there should not be an obvious bump. Both pieces of cane should have been thinned back to the thickness of one leaving the basket weaving smooth.
BASKET PURSE HINGES and CLOSURE LOOPS
The hinges are located in the back of the Nantucket Basket Purse. They not only keep the top attached to the basket, but allow the basket purse to be opened and closed. There is a great deal of stress placed on these hinges - demand the use of cane wrapped leather for strength and durability.
The closure loops and clasp are located on the front center of the Nantucket Basket Purse. They allow the closure peg to keep the purse closed. This is another area which receives a great amount of use and stress. Again, only cane-wrapped leather should be used in this area.
NANTUCKET BASKET PURSE LID CARVINGS
Many basket weavers attach a bone, ivory or scrimshaw plaque to the lid of their baskets. Some use traditional carvings like whales, starfish and shells, others use more artistic carvings like bunnies, sailboats and other decorations crafted from wood, brass or copper. Ivory hardware and carvings will exceed the cost of bone hardware due to its rarity. Bone and ivory carvings and scrimshaw plaques (or toppers) can be obtained from experienced scrimshanders - an artist who carves scrimshaw.
Some Nantucket basket weavers are now using a natural mix compound for the scrimshaw plaques and carvings. This is made by mixing a stable bonding agent (approved by museum curators) with ground bone and ivory. This mix is then poured into a highly detailed mold. This method will produce a plaque or carving which exactly imitates the look, weight and feel of authentic whale's ivory.
There is, in my opinion, nothing wrong with using the more environmentally responsible man-made polymers, however, it may affect the future value of the Nantucket Basket or Nantucket Purse. I prefer to use natural bone or recycled or mammoth ivory.
A few Nantucket basketry artisans craft their own ivory or bone parts. Most others purchase them from reliable suppliers in the United States, using only FDA approved ivory or bone or recycled bone and mammoth ivory. Many of these had "former lives" as cue balls, piano keys and large ivory or bone carvings, which are now being re-cut and shaped for new uses. No longer is bone and ivory being harvested from endangered animals!
NANTUCKET BASKET FINAL FINISH
Nantucket Lightship Baskets and Nantucket Basket Purses should never be stained or artificially darkened by stain to give the "illusion" of patina (age). This may cause permanent damage to the basket or purse basket by causing it to dry out. Tung Oil has been proven to promote the growth of mold, which is one of many reason I don't use it on my fine Nantucket baskets. I also do not use polyurethane, as it leaves a plastic-looking coating on the basket.
I do hand apply by brush either pre-mixed or self-mixed clear varnish, using one coat on the inside of the basket, and between two and three coats on the outside. Hardwood parts like the base, handle, and rims are given an extra coat. Nantucket Lightship baskets and Nantucket Lightship Purse Baskets will develop a natural, rich dark patina over the years, which is highly valued among collectors. New Nantucket baskets and Nantucket basket purses will be lighter in color, but will darken with use and age. This is the patina.
All the fine cane "hairs" should have been removed both from the inside and outside of the Nantucket Lightship basket and Nantucket basket purse. This detail is often overlooked by less-experienced weavers and mass-produced wholesale manufacturers. The tradition of placing a coin in a purse was to give the new owner good luck and much good fortune. Nantucket Island legend states that a two pence coin in a purse or basket, tossed overboard when passing the Lighthouse leaving Nantucket Harbor would bring safe passage and return on the ferry, which transported the residents of Nantucket Island to the mainland.
NANTUCKET BASKET COST
Be prepared to spend on average between $35.00 to +$100.00 per inch for a Nantucket Lightship Basket or Nantucket Lightship Purse Basket crafted by an experienced and reputable weaver. (An 8" round basket will run between $280 and $800) Nantucket Oval Baskets and Nantucket Handbag Purses, of course, will command higher prices, as will the use of hardwood staves. The use and amount of ivory, bone or scrimshaw decoration on a basket or purse will also affect the final cost.
Nantucket baskets or purses which use expensive exotic tropical hardwoods for base and/or lid plates or handles will also command higher prices.
Mass-produced imported Nantucket-"style" baskets & purses, which have been stained to look old, can be purchased from importers and wholesalers for $125.00 and less. These Nantucket-like purse baskets and Nantucket-like baskets will not increase in value or beauty, and their value is towards decorative rather than investment or regular use. Barlow, Farnum and Basketville are mass-produced overseas. The old adage of "You get what you pay for" and "the Devil is in the details" certainly applies with Nantuckets!
CARE OF YOUR NANTUCKET BASKET
Proper care of your Nantucket basketry will ensure longevity. Antique Nantucket Lightship Baskets have survived the test of time. These sturdy baskets and the vintage Nantucket Purse baskets are designed and crafted to be used, not locked away in a closet or one a shelf.
Store your Nantucket Lightship basket or Nantucket Purse out of direct sunlight when not in use, and keep it from water and ink stains.
An occasional damp cloth gently wiped over the entire Nantucket Basket or Nantucket Purse will keep it clean and remove any light accumulated dirt or dust. A small, fine bristled brush may also be used to "dust" the cracks and crevices between the weaving, or the carving and top plate.
I trust that this information presented above will be of value to you as you prepare to purchase or bid on a Nantucket Lightship Basket or Nantucket Purse Basket.
Investing a few moments of your time to know what to look for, and carefully inspecting photos, or asking questions of the seller, will ensure you of a fine Nantucket basketry purchase.
Most imported and imitation Nantucket basket purses will use plastic lacing or very poor-quality leather. For hinges which are going to last and look the best on a Nantucket purse basket, the use of cane-wrapped leather for strength, authenticity, durability and beauty should be demanded.