In Christmases Past, Wicker Made the List

Add a few millennia and you’ll find the historical roots of this Victorian wicker sleigh.

In the past, Christmas was a much simpler time, and the emphasis was more on family, church and 
community rather than the monumental gift extravaganza it is today.

Then, money was often
 tight and credit cards were a thing of the future, so when gifts were given, they were generally functional items
 rather than throwaway toys. Some, like these wicker sleighs, covered both bases—something for the kids
 but still a functional item for the family.

Both of these wicker sleighs date from the late-19th century, one of the peak periods in demand for wicker furnishings.

During this period, one could find everything, from cradles to pole lamps made of wicker. Most of it carries little in the way of company markings, though some pieces did have metal labels to indicate a maker but have either fallen off or were removed when the wicker was repainted.

When one thinks of wicker, the automatic assumption is that it’s a Victorian creation, but actually wicker has been
 used as far back as 3000 B.C. in Egypt.

Ancient Egyptians who invented it used it for far more mundane items. They found the indigenous reeds and grass that grew along the Nile Delta were perfect for weaving into baskets and storage boxes.

With Victorian wicker, rarity is everything. This sleigh sold for a less than a tenth of what the other sleigh commanded.

Wicker items became an unintended export item that followed the early trade routes all the way to ancient Rome, the light weight and durability of wicker storage pieces being their main selling feature. Not only could the baskets be used for shipping, they could also be resold after emptied of their cargo.

The weaving techniques were eventually modified by tradesmen to fit the Roman market for furniture and other items that look more like what we recognize today as wicker.

Wicker’s resurgence in popularity in the modern era occurred during 
the late-19th century in England, where publications touted its ability to withstand outdoor use and its health aspects compared to dust- and germ-collecting upholstered furniture of the period.

Values for these wicker sleighs vary a great deal by rarity and condition. The example on with the swan’s neck is a very rare example and sold at auction for $6,000. The other sold for $400.


Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

WorthPoint—Discover Your Hidden Wealth