Shaker poplar boxes not as popular today

Published 4:13 pm Friday, January 18, 2019


Personal effects

Question: I don’t see many woven Shaker poplar boxes. Are they as collected as they used to be? I’ve had this one since the 1980s. I bought it from a dealer who said it was a Kentucky piece. It’s in good condition but the flowers and ribbons are faded and very fragile. Any help you can give me on this is much appreciated. Thank you for all you do for collectors and antique lovers.

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Answer: What a sweet box. I love these little fragile beauties. However, I hate to tell you, it’s not a Kentucky piece. I’m not 100 percent sure that it’s even Shaker. It could be a piece from the world, copied from the Shakers.

It’s the flowers that throw me off. You didn’t tell me or show me any photos of marks or stamps. Shakers were careful to label their pieces. However, it could be a much later piece from the early 1900s. Woven poplar boxes were first made in the 1850s-60s by the Shakers in Mt. Lebanon, New York and spread to Alfred and Sabbathday Lake Villages in Maine. The last woven poplar boxes were woven in the 1960s, by Sister Bertha Lindsay at the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire.

Shaker woven poplar boxes are boxes that were made from or decorated with micro thin strips of poplar wood. Think of the curls you see as a bench plane slides across a piece of wood, though in a more controlled method. A lot of people are surprised to see a Shaker piece that’s been decorated with ribbons and flowers. But the Shakers were masters of the marketplace and they saw in the years following the Civil War that Victorian tastes and styles were what was needed to sell their products. They obliged. Remember, many of the New England Shaker villages had very successful gift shops that sold a variety of wares. These boxes were one of those things.

I’ll be honest with you, as I know you want me to be, the Shaker market has taken a tumble. The days of celebrity-studded auctions are long since over. Some Shaker pieces do, of course, bring good money.

Pieces that are first surfaces, painted and items with air tight and iron clad histories are always in demand. But they bring far less than they did 10 years ago. I saw a gorgeous, right and true, Shaker rocking chair sell at a well-known regional auction house for under $100. I think your woven poplar box, Shaker or of the world, at a good antiques show will be priced at about $75. Keep it out of direct sunlight and try not to touch the ribbon decorations, because I know it shatters with a touch. Thanks for a great question.