Personal Effects, Jan. 28-29
By Jerry Sampson
Question: Jerry, From earliest childhood I can remember my grandmother using this basket. She took it shopping with her and we used it as a picnic basket back in the 1950s or earlier. I have no idea where she got it or what it is made of. As you can see, there is some damage to the handle, but the rest of the basket looks good as new and it’s very sturdy. I once took it to the farmer’s market here in Danville and two people asked if I would sell it! (I won’t, of course.) Is it worth anything beyond sentimental value? How should I be taking care of it, and can anything be done about that handle?
Answer: What a great question. It leads me to think of one of my favorite adages, and that is, that old people can buy new things.
At its earliest possible date, this basket could date the 1930s, but I think that it dates to the 1950s. It’s made of a reed type material, much like a wicker chair or table. It’s factory made and was likely made by the truck load.
There was a huge out pouring of these baskets from Asia during this time.
Before industrialization baskets were made locally, if not at home. Often a basket maker used locally sourced materials like maple, ash or poplar. Strips of wood were cleaned, beaten, drawn with a knife, were trimmed and were fashioned into a variety of different sizes, shapes and uses.
Baskets have been around for thousands of years. Remember, Moses was placed in a reed basket and send streaming down the Nile River.
I love your basket not so much for its value, but because you enjoy and use it. That’s the way that things should be treated, regardless of its age or value.
Of course unless it’s something that is very, very rare and fragile you might consider this. Over time, baskets dry out naturally. I recommend that you gently dunk it, several times, in some clear water and let it air dry in a place with dappled sun. Not the boiling hot sun as that will cause it to dry too quickly and even damage it more.
Do not apply oil, WD-40 or that awful mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine that old time antiques dealers poured on everything. These things only clog up pores and collect dust and can darken wood — forever.
If dunking in water scares you, you might just hang it up for a while in your bathroom. As you take hot showers and baths the steam will help it to plump those fibers back up. It’ll just take longer than a quick dunk.
You do need to repair it so you might contact your local extension office or arts council to see if anyone repairs baskets or if there are any basket workshops planned in the future. Maybe you could learn to do it your self. Wouldn’t that be great! That way you’ll have a direct link to your grandmother’s basket.
I see baskets like this, even with some damage, in the store for about $40. Thanks for sharing it, get it repaired and keep using it.