Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Collecting picnic baskets: A tisket a tasket


   A few years ago after selling our home in northern Virginia, our family spent nearly two years renting a furnished home in the historic town of Jonesborough, Tennessee. The house, called "Jacobs house" by the locals, is perched on top of a hill overlooking the oldest town in Tennessee. The Jacobs house is three stories tall with very steep stairs, two tiny bathrooms, no closets and is only about 800 square feet - very charming and cute but a little too cozy for this family of four! 
Jacobs house, Jonesborough, Tennessee
While living in the Jacobs house, most of our worldly possessions were safely packed away in storage, however there were some things that just needed to be kept with us. My challenge was to find an adequate way to store our things without giving up valuable living space. I solved this problem in the bedrooms by stacking vintage suitcases in a tower of storage. In the kitchen and family room I used old picnic baskets to keep things handy but out of the way. At the time I didn't own too many picnic baskets, so like every red-blooded woman on the planet would do - I went shopping!

     They say that all good things must come to an end and so it was when the bittersweet day came to say good-bye to the Jacobs house and Tennessee, and move into our new abode in southwestern Virginia - but my attraction to these old picnic baskets clearly did not end.
    Although our new home is much roomier than the Jacobs house, my picnic baskets are still very much in use! I display them in my laundry room and the butler's pantry and store things inside that I don't use very often which frees up valuable cupboard space. I store things like cupcake tins, cake & bread pans, holiday tea towels, aprons and linens, and the many kitchen gadgets and gizmos that I've acquired through the years. I've also been known to reserve a few baskets to hide small Christmas and birthday gifts. I also hide goodies from my teenage son who has a nose like a bloodhound when it comes to finding my hidden stash of sweet and yummy treats!

               Most of the baskets in my collection have been purchased at flea markets and antique malls, every now and then I'll find one at a yard sale or thrift shop (and do the happy dance!). I try to keep my basket budget at $15 which is somewhat of a challenge.
   Depending on the type of basket and its condition you can expect to pay between $20 - $50 in an antique shop. My favorite baskets are the tin ones, especially the ones with lots of bold color. I do, however love the woven plastic ones because they are HUGE and can hold quite a lot of stuff! The wooden picnic basket is a timeless classic - and one cannot call themselves a collector of picnic baskets without having at least one on display! 
    When in the market for a picnic basket there are a few things you should look out for. If buying a wooden basket, make sure the hinge is in good shape and check the weave to make sure that it's tight and not falling apart. Wooden and wicker baskets should be kept out of direct sunlight so that the wood/wicker doesn't dry out. I keep mine in my laundry room because the humidity won't hurt them. If buying a tin basket make sure that the lithograph design is bright and beautiful and watch out for the rust! Be really careful when you clean these tin ones because even some household cleaners can damage the lithograph image (I say this from experience), I use warm water with a little bit of Mr. Clean or white vinegar and a soft cloth. Keep out of direct sunlight to keep the image from fading and don't store in a place with high humidity as it will eventually rust.
   I've recently expanded my collection to include old bread and biscuit boxes made of tin (made of tin to keep mice from getting in), they look just like the tin baskets but without a handle.
   It's fun to collect something that is both beautiful and useful - especially when there's a sweet memory attached to them! These wonderful old baskets will always take me back to those two years spent in Jonesborough, Tennessee in the old Jacobs house when the kids were little and money was tight and where we left a little piece of our hearts behind. 


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