No known basketry style is as unique to its place of birth as the Nantucket Lightship Basket and Nantucket Lightship Basket Purse. The characteristics which identify these absolutely stunning baskets are not found on any other basketry style in the world.
Nantucket Lightship Baskets originated more than 150 years ago by crewmen and captains manning the lightships off the coast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.
The whaling industry sent the residents of Nantucket Island traveling abroad where they were introduced to the use of rattan cane. The use of cane, combined with the techniques used by the Native American Indians, using wooden bases, made this type of basketry very sturdy and durable.
The most distinctive process in making a Nantucket Lightship Basket was the use of wooden molds. Many of the original Nantucket basket molds were made from the lightship masts themselves, enabling the crew to craft nesting Nantucket Lightship Baskets. The molds were used to ensure the accuracy in size and shape.
Originally, these Nantucket Lightship Baskets were called "rattan baskets." It wasn't until 1856 that the first Nantucket Lightship Basket was named. The name was derived from the men who manned the Lightships and originally crafted these baskets.
In 1948, the idea of a using a woven lid design to top a Nantucket Lightship Basket in order to create a ladies Nantucket handbag was introduced by Jose F. Reyes. The Nantucket covered baskets that he produced were the handbags that are most commonly seen today. Most Nantucket hand bag baskets are adorned with some form of decoration, whether it be a finely scrimshawed scene on an ivory plaque or a carved ivory whale or Nantucket scallop shell.
The Nantucket Lightship Basket and the Nantucket Lightship Basket Purse have become an emblem and a symbol that clearly says "Nantucket Island." The baskets continue to be both useful, collectable and valuable. A finely crafted Nantucket Lightship basket or Nantucket Lightship Basket Purse will increase it's value with age. Many finely crafted Nantucket Lightship baskets are considered family heirlooms, which are passed on generation after generation.
No longer are Nantucket basket weavers confined to Island weaving. Today, Nantucket baskets are being crafted all over the USA and even on the International Space Station by fine craftsmen! Astronaut Dan Bursch wove miniature Nantucket baskets during his free time on the International Space Station. (http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2002/04/30/4/?nc=1)