9:23 AM


Above: Ambrotype of a women holding a “Nantucket” purse (basket) circa 1860 (Brimfield find 2010)
Welcome back to my blog!

As I have mentioned, I live in New England and I chose the image above for the benefit of Jennifer who was carrying a Nantucket purse at the play, (Asylum-The Strange Case of Mary Lincoln) I attended last evening.  http://www.spiritofbroadway.org/

She explained to me how fondly she loved her basket and how she ordered an untraditional one with the lid having a slice of tiger maple inserted instead of the traditional [now imitation] ivory piece. I said, “That made yours special- just for you!” These baskets were and still are being made on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts- just off the coast of Cape Cod. The purses range in price from $60 to hundreds of dollars and are certainly something that should be saved and passed down.

These baskets are an American expression and I was unaware exactly when these purses were made, so I Googled it and was surprised to find these purse type baskets were first made in 1856….so this is a very early image of one.  http://www.nantucketbaskets.com/history/history.htm
In 1856 when the first Lightship was commissioned to warn ships of the dangerous shoals off the southern shores of Nantucket, many of the sailors took basket making materials with them to relieve themselves from the long hours of boredom. It is from this era that the baskets received the "Lightship Basket" moniker, and reached a state of refinement that caused them to be widely sought after.  The very first "purse" basket was produced during this era by the Lightship Captain Charles Ray. (shown to the right)  His grandson, third generation basket maker "Mitchy" Ray, taught the Nantucket style to Jose Formosa Reyes who popularized the purse form decades later.
Compare the two purses- first is the 1856 woven by Lightship Captain Charles Ray and the second is a close up of the one in the Ambrotype. The lids are slightly different, but this may have been woven to hold sewing or knitting needles and the handles are different, but it is the same basic basket/purse.



This makes me wonder, who wove this basket? Was it the lady herself as her employment or was it her husband? The fact that she displayed it in her photograph I'd like to believe is a gesture of love for her sailor to carry while at sea as a remembrance that she would be waiting for him on shore when he arrives safely home…..that thought gave me chills as I typed it….


There is no photographer’s stamp on the mat, but if this ambrotype was taken in Nantucket it is possible Charles H Shute who’s studio operated from 1858-1870- Wikipedia had this Nantucket street scene taken by Shute circa 1870.
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