As long as we’ve been collecting found objects I’ve been captivated by tobacco baskets.
What, you might ask, are these? They are usually 36-inch square, oak, slatted baskets used for transporting tobacco from the drying sheds to the tobacco market. They were in common use until about 1980; some folks have told me this type of basket is still used in Maryland tobacco markets.
We know a gentleman named Charles, from western Virginia, who finds a few at a time in barns and sheds of his family’s circle of friends. When his tobacco baskets are in fairly good shape we purchase them. But what a filthy mess they are; the baskets have been lying neglected for the best part of 35 years.
We clean off the dirt, cobwebs, and leaves that coat them. Then I disinfect them with a vinegar and water solution. No one minds a little dirt, but chicken sh_t is a deal-breaker for some people. I then stand them on end to dry before applying a coat of light brown Briwax. After the wax has dried I use one of Papa Harry’s fabulous old brushes to burnish the wax into a beautiful sheen. (Papa Harry is not a brand but my husband’s late grandfather.) The Briwax coaxes out the tobacco basket’s color and stenciling.
Once we found two 18-inch square tobacco baskets with similar market stenciling. We had no idea why the size was significantly smaller than the others but we loved the smaller scale. I prepared them the same as their larger cousins and hung them in our location in Vermont.
I was in the store when a young woman came in and announced these two smaller baskets were from a Connecticut pipe tobacco market. I looked at her, shrugged, and gave her my best “if you say so” look. She responded, “I know because my family used to grow pipe tobacco I still live on our family farm.” So, as with all things in my world, I am the dumbest guy in the room. I thanked her for her contribution; we relabeled the baskets: Connecticut pipe tobacco baskets. Subsequently, we found a tobacco basket that was 18 by 30 inches and can only surmise it is also a Connecticut pipe tobacco basket. None of these baskets stay long in either of our locations, but the smaller ones fly out.
We currently have two smaller Connecticut pipe tobacco baskets and a couple of North Carolina tobacco baskets in our collection. We are always on the hunt for more; so if you know of someone who has them please give us and them a shout.