Question: I have collected baskets from here and abroad for a number of years. Recently, I was told that so many baskets were on the collectible market that their value was dropping. Is this true?--M. T.
Answer: Collectors and dealers tell us that up until a few years ago, that was the case. But then, they said, the market began to pick up again and, accordingly, values rose.
Much of this interest has centered on baskets fashioned in Appalachia during the 1920s and 1930s. Age and location, however, may not be primary criteria in appraising a basket's worth. Instead, skill of the craftsmen counts for a great deal, and baskets of recent vintage can command top dollar, depending on workmanship.
Would-be basket collectors, then, shouldn't necessarily look for signs of age or even an artist's signature. The bottom line is technique and style. However, if one is determined to ascertain age, there are certain things to look for such as wear signs on the bottom of the basket and color fading.
Among the finest basket weavers in this country are individuals of American Indian descent.
This is an excellent field for the beginning collector, since interestingly woven baskets can still be found for a few dollars each at yard and country sales.
Baskets can be divided into some basic categories linked to the type of material used by the basket weaver.
Splint baskets, the most common, consist of long, flat strips of hickory, ash or oak. Willow baskets are popular because they're relatively easy to work with--made of the long, supple shoots of the willow tree. And straw baskets were popular among the German settlers of the middle Eastern Seaboard.
Some dealer catalogue prices indicate relatively reasonable prices. For example, a Pennsylvania basket for collecting clams or oysters, woven in the late 19th Century, had a price tag of about $70; a 19th-Century basket made in New York state and used for feeding livestock, about $130, and an early 20th-Century basket made in New Hampshire and used for market shopping, about $50.
During a recent trip to Santa Fe, N. M., we visited the Museum of International Folk Art, where the magnificent Girard Foundation Collection, donated to the Museum of New Mexico in 1978, is a folk art collector's dream.
Over a period of about 40 years, architect, businessman and world traveler Alexander Girard collected more than 100,000 folk objects from some 100 countries. Wood carvings, paintings, textile hangings, dolls of every description, detailed re-creations of dinner scenes and even complex replicas of portions of cities are on display.
In an interview with a museum official, Girard said:
"My thought in this collection and exhibition is to present opportunities for connecting with people all over the world while avoiding the bromide of 'one world.' It's true that all the 'people' in the exhibit, like real people, have hands, feet, eyes and bodies and often they do the same things. But the truth is, they do them differently.
"What becomes interesting is seeing the differences as well as the similarities; that's the real payoff, the third dimension. If I will have managed to project that idea in this exhibit, I will have accomplished my goals as a collector and designer."