Basketry Care and Maintenance
Most Collectible Baskets are
Antique Circa 1880-1930
Most collectible Native American
baskets that exist today were made in the period between 1880-1930.
This period marks the beginning of the Collector Period when collectors were
able to purchase new condition baskets directly from the weavers. Few
baskets prior to 1880 exist as these items were utilitarian , even as objects
of beauty, and were discarded when they no longer could be repaired. In
addition, many western tribal cultures, especially in California, cremated
baskets along with clothing and other personal possessions during funeral
ceremonies, reducing the number of early baskets extant. (In the photo below
an unidentified Native California Indian prepares baskets, clothing and other
possessions of the deceased for cremation ceremony. This is an early
twentieth century photo.)
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Picking Up A Basket
Never let anyone pick up your basket by the rim or with one
hand only ; always pick up a basket with clean dry hands by the base --or
center bottom-- and support it with both hands. Show others the proper way
to hold a basket if it is necessary for others to hold the basket. Some
baskets --such as Alaskan Tlingit baskets and Attu Island sea grass baskets
are as fragile as old parchment paper; and even sturdy baskets such as
Apaches can be damaged by holding the full weight of the basket by a small
section of rim alone.
Do Not Coat Basket in ANY Substance
At certain points in collecting history it was a fad among a
very few collectors to shellac their baskets in an attempt to "preserve"
them. Coating with ANY substance is unnecessary and can, in fact,
significantly reduce the value of the basket as a collectible. A few
old baskets have been found that were dipped or rubbed in oil, presumably to
keep them from becoming brittle. This also is not only unnecessary but
also attracts so much dirt and dust to the basket that they become black and
un- displayable. Baskets such as these are very difficult, and often
impossible, to professionally clean. Needless to say, much of the
collector's value of baskets treated in this manner is lost.
A feather duster is the best way to dust a basket that is not
kept in a display case. For deeper cleaning where needed dampen a white 100%
cotton cloth (cotton diapers work well) very slightly with clean cold water
and blot gently; let basket air dry completely. Soaking a basket in water
can result in the swelling and popping of stitches. For deeper cleaning
needs for your basket collection, please contact us for a free quote on
professional cleaning or restoration services.
Other Things to Avoid
Basketry care mostly centers on avoiding problem-causing
situations as there is little other formal "care" involved.
Because oil and grease can build up on kitchen surfaces, it
is best to place baskets away from the stove and preferably outside of the
kitchen area. Excess moisture and humidity makes bathrooms and
basements a poor choice for display.
Most baskets are placed in living rooms, dens, formal dining
rooms, business offices, hall galleries, libraries "collection" rooms,
bedrooms, studies and the like.
Other Quick Tips
1. If baskets are to be displayed in a room with long-term
heavy smoking it is a good idea to invest in a carbon-filter air system.
Good systems are available in the low hundreds or less and can be purchased
on the internet. It will save your baskets, (as well as drapes, furnishings
etc.) from discoloration .
2. Place baskets away from the heater vent. (Heat from heater
vents can increase brittleness)
3. Place baskets away from direct sunlight which can fade
4. Avoid areas (basements, bathrooms) where water condenses
on surfaces. Baskets kept in damp places (especially in storage) for long
periods can develop mildew discoloration--nearly impossible to restore.
5. If baskets are to be stored for some time be sure the
storage sight is free of insects and rodents. Be sure the baskets are
professionally packed in bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts and double box
fragile baskets. Be sure no heavy items are placed on top of stored baskets.
6. Baskets not being displayed or enjoyed should be
considered for possible sale as most damage to baskets occurs in long term
storage in a garage, basement, cellar, storage unit or warehouse. If you
have baskets not currently being displayed or enjoyed, please contact us for
a free appraisal of your collection as well as "no obligation" offers of both
purchase and consignment (higher offer). Please see
this page for more
Moving, Packing, Shipping, Transporting
The best way to package a basket for transportation in most
cases is to wrap it well in Bubble-wrap and place it in the center of a new
cardboard shipping box allowing at least four inches in every direction for
packing material (Styrofoam "peanuts" or other "fill material"). For extra
protection on your most valuable and/or fragile examples , double box inside
a box that is also at least four inches larger in each direction filling the
space between the inner box and outer box with additional fill material.
Formal Insurance Documents and Archival Documents
While our free e-mail appraisals are appropriate for those
with collections for potential sale, collectors seeking to hold their
collection large term would be advised to obtain a current formal appraisal
document suitable for both insurance and archival purposes. Such
documents are highly detailed, signed and dated on letterhead stationary,
and are available for a modest fee. A free quote is available by email at