8:25 AM


Welcome to my Blog!
I received an email from Tim Parsons at the Nantucket Lightship Basket company  and he thinks my ambrotype is cool, but he checked his books and doesn't see any basket resembling the one above, so is this or is this not a Nantucket Basket?
And again, I fall back on my belief that this would drive a collector crazy, but I am lucky, I am a historian and see it as Yankee Ingenuity...so maybe this is an occupational of a lady who makes basket type purses (her fingers certainly seem to have swollen look like a mill worker) or maybe she sews in a shop for living? Whatever, she is trying to tell us about her life....

Women working in a Straw Hat Factory- Detail of  a Stereoview by P N Bliss- note added on back W. Knowltons.Upton Massachusetts CLICK TO IMAGE TO ENLARGE

So, I throw this question out, "What is it," to the ladies who do Civil War/Living History who have read Godey's et al. Email ME
I posted an article below that says; "Specially ordered baskets were made with finely fitted covers, a precursor to the handbag baskets that were made 75 years later.... Before 1860, many of the baskets were made "free-form".  They were shaped without the use of a mold."

I found there is a museum devoted to these baskets and emailed them Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum
with my query. On their link I found an interesting article about the history and construction of the Round Nantucket Baskets that you might like to read- and if anyone is near them take a class! This makes me want to do a trip back to Nantucket just to go to this museum!




A Short History of Nantucket Lightship Baskets
by Paul Madden 
The design of the Nantucket Lightship Baskets evolved slowly beginning in the early 19th Century on Nantucket Island.  The native Indians had for many years produced hardy wooden splint baskets for fieldwork and storage.  These splint baskets were gradually adapted and modified by the Nantucketers into shapes and the materials that we now call, “The Nantucket Lightship Baskets”.
I believe that, at first, cane (often called rattan) a long vine-like plant imported from the South Pacific and commonly used for weaving chair seats was used mostly to repair the early splint baskets.  Nantucket basket makers slowly incorporated the cane "weavers" as the key ingredient in their baskets.  Before 1850 the splint cane was primarily used in the first several rows of weaving on the lower curved part of the splint basket.  This area was most vulnerable to excessive wear and the Nantucketers found the use of cane the solution to this problem.  Slowly, the use of the native wood splint was gradually eliminated and the baskets were eventually made almost entirely of split cane. 
Before 1860, many of the baskets were made "free-form".  They were shaped without the use of a mold.  These baskets have no center hole in the bottom board.  Later, the hole was necessary to screw the bottom board to the mold.  Also, there are known early examples where the one-piece bottom board was actually made of two round boards nailed together.  Later, the bottom boards were hand-turned on a lathe and the same time a groove on the edge was provided to hold the staves.  The term "staves" came from the coopering trade and they are the vertical elements of the basket upon which the horizontal "weavers" are woven. 
The earliest baskets had bottom boards made of plain pine but later woods of maple, cherry and oak were beautifully lathe turned, often, with incised rings.  The rims were made of heavier caning or bendable local woods such as hickory and ash.  The carrying handles were usually made of hickory, oak, and woods that could be shaped and bent.  Their sizes varied from about four inches to twenty inches in diameter and were either round or oval.  There are no known sets or "nests" of baskets before 1860. 
During the second half of the 19th Century, Nantucketers often signed up for duty on the lightships that were stationed around the Island.  The most famous Lightship was the South Shoal Lightship. Located about 60 miles south of the Island,  It was there that many famous makers made their best baskets.  Many basket makers had a "production-line" that turned the bottoms, wove the staves, and finished the baskets while serving aboard.  Some of the best baskets were sold to the tourists that visited the many hotels and boarding houses.  During this period up to eight baskets were expertly assembled into fitted "nests".  Prices started at about $1.50 for the smallest basket and could go up to about $50.00 for a nest of eight.  Some of the best known makers during this time are Captain Charles Ray, Davis Hall, Captain Andrew J. Sandsbury, Captain James Wyer, Geo. Washington Ray, and William Appleton.  During the late 1800's some specially ordered baskets were made with finely fitted covers, a precursor to the handbag baskets that were made 75 years later.   
After 1900, the making of baskets aboard the Lightship ceased, but the tradition continued on the Island.  Some of the basket makers from this period of 1910 to 1940 are A. D. Williams, Ferinand Sylvaro and Clinton "Mitchy" Ray.  In the late 1940's Jose Formoso Reyes, a talented basket maker, created a cane woven basket with a loosely fitted top and named it a "Friendship Basket".  He mounted a carved ivory whale on the top and it could be carried either by a swing handle or over the shoulder on a long braided strap.  Originally his baskets sold for around $15.00 and then quickly became the standard for what we call today, the "Nantucket Lightship handbag basket."