Wicker seems to be a summertime antique, though it's beautiful year round, and many times can be used inside as well as out. Pair it with a slew of ferns, and it offers an ambiance of yesteryear that is classic in your decor.
Wicker has been around for centuries, however, it was during the Victorian era that wicker became extremely popular in the western world. The ability to weave elaborate designs into the reed appealed to the Victorian bent for the overdone and beautiful. Wicker in its purist form is a type of basketwork, however, it has now become a generic term referring to furniture made of woven materials. Most sought after antique wicker is made of rattan, reed or paper fiber totally woven over hardwood steam-bent frames dating from the 1870s through the 1940s.
Some of the important names in wicker furniture include the Heywood Brothers, Wakefield Rattan Company, and later when these two merge, the Heywood-Wakefield Company. The Whitney and Reed Company, Lloyd Loom and The Dryad Company are also noteworthy. Knowing when these companies existed can help date a piece of furniture with their markings.
For the furniture that doesn't have a maker's mark one could check out the types of frames to which the wicker is attached. Some are hardwood and some are willow or softwood and they tell a story of their origin. The quality of the weaving and the finish are also indicators of the specific manufacturer. Lloyd Loom, for example, is easy to identify because it will have metal wires running through it so a magnet will always stick to it.
When shopping for old wicker it is good to examine the furniture carefully. If the item is handmade it will have some slight variation in its construction. Style will also give a clue to age in that certain designs are more popular in one era than another.
The Internet offers guidance concerning antique wicker. An excellent website that offers all manner of advice is www.wickerwoman.com. It discusses care and repair information plus resources for expert help. One bit of advice is that old wicker, though it is light and airy, is best kept on an enclosed porch. Exposure to the elements will alter its condition and value.
Prices for good antique wicker on the Internet are significant yet that may be a different story in one's own vicinity. It's a good idea to consult both before buying or selling.
Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.