As wicker continues to rise in demand, some questions arise as to whether it might be better to invest in old wicker pieces as opposed to new furnishings. The variances in production quality were just as prevalent in wicker made many decades ago as they are today, and understanding those differences is sometimes best left to experts. While collectors are skilled in differentiating between premium old wicker and poor construction, casual buyers should always proceed with caution.
With so many reproduction pieces available today from noted manufacturers, some owners may prefer the comfort of knowing their selections will last well into the future. Others will take pride in finding and restoring those long-forgotten pieces.
Overview of Older Wicker
The Victorian Era saw a surge in wicker’s popularity. Chairs, sofas, end tables and other accessories ranged from the simple to the ornate. Pieces during these years were typically crafted from rattan reed and cane or twisted paper. Willow and bamboo were present, but not as abundantly. Older furnishings typically featured weaves over hardwood frames that were often steamed and bent to add curves and supports. Softer woods were also used and were often an indicator of their manufacturer or a specific production period. Such companies as the Heywood Brothers, which merged with the Wakefield Rattan Company to become Heywood-Wakefield produced quality wicker.
Vintage wicker most often comes with a hefty price tag today, but many of these pieces remain in good enough shape to last well into the future. For casual shoppers, it may be wise to find a trusted expert to make the selections. Reputable dealers can also testify to authenticity and quality, and many will offer evaluation and restoration services.
Do-it-yourselfers can restore older wicker, but it is a painstaking process that truly requires the skills of an expert. With grit and grime settled into peeling weaves and framework, the cleanup job is obviously tedious and time-consuming. Too much water during cleaning can release glues, and vigorous scraping of old paint may destroy fibers. Once cleaned, priming and painting or staining and varnishing will need to be repeated every two years or so.
Advantages of Newer Wicker
Quality variations exist in new wicker as well, and any new buyer should consider the construction processes as well as the materials. Prices may reflect quality, but not always. Rattan cane framing, for instance, should be reinforced with dowels and wood screws followed by glue. Bindings should be leather or rattan peel that are applied wet and allowed to dry in place for added tightness. Some indoor pieces do feature wood framework along with sturdy woven decking for seats.
Highest quality rattan cane and woven fibers will undergo sanding and priming before a multi-step finish is applied. In some cases, these wicker pieces are suitable for limited outdoor use if placed under full cover. In these cases, they should have a sealant applied before shipping followed by yearly applications for continued protection.
In most instances, reproduction pieces are quality crafted to last through many decades even with heavy use. Heywood-Wakefield wicker reproductions remain faithful to elaborate detailing from the Victorian era. Eastern coastal furnishings, popularized in the early 1900s, are also worthy of collecting and are just as enjoyable in design as their original counterparts.
Many other parameters are involved in choosing new over old wicker, but the basics may be helpful in decision-making that is also based on taste and budget. Armed with some historical references and knowledge about production, it becomes a little easier to make that choice.