Thursday, August 26, 2010

Late 18th & Early 19th c Basket Purses.....

Earlier this month, I received this email request :
darling pip looks just like a tasha tudor child in a painting! can you please tell your readers some facts about that basket? i have never seen anything like that - some photos of the smaller ones but nothing like that huge basket! i would love to learn more about it and i am sure many other readers would also. it is amazing!

your work seems to just get better and better!
thanks, priscilla miller


(Priscilla is referring to the basket that Pip is holding in the Fundraiser Drawing Giveaway post earlier this month. ) First of all, thankyou for your email Priscilla! This is a great question, but not one that can be answered easily, or hastily in a few sentences. My research, and views on these baskets, goes absolutely against 'the grain' of modern collectors, who are content to believe what they read in a few published books, that specifically refer to these baskets as "Chinese Export", and nothing more,
and also include not one reference note as to where they have gleaned their information. I promise to answer your question about the adult size baskets, but first, a little history....

I have admired and collected these baskets for over 15 years now, as well as any related materials, including period photographs of them with both their young, and adult owners. Engravings, paintings, I search them out everywhere. Currently, the Museum has over 100 fine examples of these baskets, both painted and unpainted, along with about 150 period images including them. These were used as fancy little purses, sewing baskets, doll baskets, bonnet baskets and lunch baskets from the late 18th c, to around the late 1860s. Trying to research these wonderful trifles, is like seeking out an ice cube in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I think these are the perfect example of something very common and that was used every day, so much so, that they were never really written about. They are from an era before collecting, before mass production and cataloguing....a hand made art, that when the Master was gone, so was the craft. They are extremely fragile things, which can attest to why so few of them have survived. All of my information I have gathered, has been from period sources~the baskets themselves, and the images they are contained in, be it photograph, painting, or engraving. One thing is certain, that by the 1870s, these gorgeous things were no where to be seen in any contemporary images. They are a lot like the Baltimore Album Quilts, that were so spectacular and thriving in Baltimore Maryland between the 1840s and late 1850s....and absolutely GONE by the 1860's (by gone, I am meaning no longer produced).

I am in total absolute disagreement that these are "Chinese Export" baskets. Nancy Shiffer's 1984 book 'Baskets' shows several, and labels them all "Chinese Export", and "Oriental" they are sitting directly beside another similar, that she labels as "Shaker". Makes absolutely no sense, and not one reference is given as to where she got this information. So do I think these Shaker? No I do not. I have kept meticulous records of where I have found my baskets, and as well, the locations listed on the back of CDV's and related images, and the majority of them come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York & New Jersey. Over 90%, with a few scattered up in Maine & New Hampshire, Kansas and Oklahoma. If these were indeed 'Chinese Export', well, they would be scattered the world over, not just in a few states here in America. I do have a cdv of what looks like a Chinese immigrant selling a low quality doll size basket, along with other toys....

For a fleeting time, I thought perhaps the rumor could be true...tho I could find NO similar baskets made by early Chinese, in neither form, or materials. I felt like I was stumbling thru the dark...until one day, the light was switched on before me, like I was standing directly in front of a Freight Train!

Does this gentleman look Chinese??? Certainly not! This is a late 1850 stereo view of an English Basket Maker....just look at his baskets~ very fine indeed. Note the basket directly above his head, at apx the 1:00 position....a wonderful adult size basket purse!

And this wonderful 1860s stereo view of a little Ladye purchasing a woven cradle for her on this and enlarge it~ there are many of the wonderful shaped finely made purses hanging above her, and behind her is a fine example with the common double swinging handles. The basket directly above the sellers head, shows the intricate hex weave, with woven handle. None of these are painted though, so my quest was not yet complete.....until I was introduced to "C. Hoyle, Basket & Seive Maker".....

Finding this 1850s stereo view was like finding the missing link to where the baskets I love come have originated. This fancy Basket maker has a variety of woven baby rattles, furniture and baskets, but look. Just look at the one I have circled for you... It is a wonderful, gorgeous footed basket purse, either painted, or decorated all ready with wool embroidery! This is a gem, as it proves that the makers of these early baskets were English or European, and that they were sold both decorated or plain.

To be continued Next week........

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