January 29th, 2018
Going Old School

Nantucket Lightship Basket

The last two summers, versions of Jane Birkin’s signature basket have been  popular. I’m betting on the Nantucket lightship basket making a comeback and have my eye on my mother’s above.

Originally made on whaling ships in the early 1800s, the lightship baskets didn’t become popular as women’s handbags until the 1940s. Sturdy and with a lid, my mother carried hers every summer and it still looks great.

There are lots of lightship baskets on eBay and Etsy. However, I reached out to my friend Stacey Bewkes of Quintessence since she is an authority on all things Nantucket and she recommended Four Winds Craft Guild for both new and vintage baskets.

Giovanna Battaglia Englebert wears hers in the winter, which is chic.


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  • My Connecticut MIL did not have a Nantucket lightship basket but instead always carried a small oval basket with her monogram needlepointed and attached to the front. It struck me as very chic.

    slfJanuary 29th, 2018  11:58 AM

  • also winkingly referred to as a “nantucket mink” … the women in my family have been collecting them for years.

    juliaJanuary 29th, 2018  12:43 PM

  • I grew up in Boston and spent many summers in Wianno on Cape Cod. In the late 1950’s my Mom took the boat to Nantucket to have her Lightship Basket made by Jose Reyes. Jose Reyes dubbed them “Friendship Baskets” for their ability to initiate conversations when spotted by Nantucket aficionados in far- flung corners of the world.”
    Now we go to Northeast Harbor, Maine every summer. For the past few summers I have spent time talking to Helen Lee at the Crafts Fair in Aug. She weaves beautiful Lightship Baskets. Last summer I broke down and ordered one from her. She should have it ready sometime this spring.
    I live in Los Altos Hills, CA and every once in a while I see some one carrying one. My stylish friend, Kathy O., carries one all summer long. Love, Pamela

    Pamela TaftJanuary 29th, 2018  2:19 PM

  • Thank you, Pamela, for mentioning me. Looking forward to seeing you in August with your fishingcreel style crossbody from my Modern Interpretations Collection.
    Helen Lee

    Helen LeeJanuary 31st, 2018  5:03 PM

  • I never thought Nantucket baskets went out of style. To me, they are timeless and a work of art. I have one and love it.

    Caryl DearingFebruary 3rd, 2018  1:28 PM

  • Glad to have seen this article. My Grand Uncle, Jose Formoso Reyes (brother of my Grand Father), added the lid on the basket. Your mother’s is beautiful. Enjoy it! I love reading articles on this purse. It’s classic, chic and can be worn all year round.

    Tanya Reyes-JulianoJune 10th, 2018  8:53 AM

  • Hope you don’t mind this correction, but these baskets were made on lightships (floating lighthouses),
    not whaling ships, hence the name “lightship basket.” Having spent many decades of summers on
    Nantucket, I agree that Four Winds is the best place to peruse new and antique baskets. I, too, never
    thought these gems went out of style!

    Marilyn CalderwoodJuly 25th, 2018  10:48 PM


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