A Tisket, A Tasket, I Love A Picnic Basket

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Spring is in full force! The trees here in New England all now have leaves, everything is blooming, and soon it will be summer. I simply can’t wait! I love the outdoors in summer…birds singing, fresh veggies, campfires, dining alfresco, picnics…and picnic baskets. A picnic basket is the absolute epitome of summer.  My favorite baskets are vintage, and they aren’t just for picnics, anymore!

“Picnic” is such a fun, almost silly word (especially when Yogi Bear says it). It’s speculated that the word originated from the French, from the early 18th century, when picnics were anything but casual affairs. “Piquer” or “Pique-Nic” was the root, which meant to “pick at something small”. Picnics have always had an almost romantic air to them. My husband and I have been married 29 years this fall, and I love that he still sometimes surprises me. Recently, it was with an impromptu picnic – a pizza from our favorite local pizza shop, hot out of the oven, eaten on a blanket at Fairfield Hills, in the field along the walking trails. 

Silly us!

Silly us!

Recently, I was straightening up the house when I realized that I had somehow acquired an “accidental collection” of vintage picnic baskets. 

Food’s been transported about in baskets for hundreds of years, but the modern-day picnic basket evolved from what was known originally as a “picnic hamper”.  By the 1920’s, a dapper basket to pack a picnic in was a staple in the finest department stores. Nowadays, I’ve easily found hand-woven wooden baskets from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, priced reasonably at thrift stores, on tag sale sites, and at antique shops. 

Being more fragile with age, I wouldn’t use some now for carrying food, but woven picnic baskets from by-gone days are great for extra storage! 

This vintage 40’s basket is big enough to store blankets. I love the warm, rustic, charm it lends as decor, under the hall table near the downstairs bath. It holds “seasonal” holiday linens, towels and aprons.

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My friend Andrea loves big, old picnic baskets, too. She used this one as a gift box for my birthday one year. Remember that big, beautiful paper mache Easter Bunny, from my last post, that I received for my birthday? It is now safely stored inside this big basket under the sofa table.

Extra, rustic storage, hidden in plain sight

Extra, rustic storage, hidden in plain sight

I love the smaller basket with the eagle, found at Goodwill for around $5.00. I often use it as a “riser” to display other things, such as the vintage drink cooler my friend Andrea me gifted one Christmas.

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It gives the room a summery “lake house” feel when displayed this way. 

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At Halloween, I change the vignette, in the form of orange-bound books from the 1940s and a kitschy vintage blow mold. 

I also love displaying tin boxes, shaped like picnic baskets, often with wooden handles. These bonus promotional pieces once held cookies or biscuits in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, and were meant to be repurposed as bread boxes or for picnics when the original product was consumed. They often had air vents in the back. Bursting full of charm, with bright, enameled paint and just enough rust to make it chic but not too shabby, they are great for storage and keeping clutter at bay.

 

We use this little biscuit/picnic tin to hold napkins and wipes on the table in the playroom.

We use this little biscuit/picnic tin to hold napkins and wipes on the table in the playroom.

At the holidays, a lil’ Harold Gale Santa perches on top. I love items that can easily blend with the seasons.

At the holidays, a lil’ Harold Gale Santa perches on top. I love items that can easily blend with the seasons.

My friend Linda gave me this interesting oval shaped tin basket.

My friend Linda gave me this interesting oval shaped tin basket.

I love the look of stacked tins. The adorable red picnic tin is actually modern, from Tractor Supply.

I love the look of stacked tins. The adorable red picnic tin is actually modern, from Tractor Supply.

Today’s picnics may be carried in insulated, soft bags, but it’s the kitschy, stylish, Mid-Century-vintage baskets that make my heart skip a beat. They were especially popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Families would load up the station wagon, pack up the beautiful picnic basket that was perhaps once a wedding gift, and hit the road! 

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I was doing the “Snoopy Happy Dance” when I found a large, green, woven Hawkeye Basket, manufactured in Iowa. The Hawkeye company was founded in 1888, and was named after the state’s nickname, “ The Hawkeye State”.

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My basket came with original utensils, stored in the lid in little elastic slots, and kitschy divided plates with cups, which we have used at potlucks and parties. I love how everything back then was reusable!

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The only thing missing from my basket is the original pie-shelf. It’s heavy enough without the pie shelf, and I can only imagine how heavy it was packed with a full meal! Masterfully created, the sturdy basket makes great storage, or even as a small “end table” for outdoor entertaining.

The detail of the weave is so beautiful! Things were made with beauty, charm, and meant to last back then.

More than sixty years later the color is stunning; the detail of the weave is also so beautiful! Things from long ago were made with beauty, charm, and were made to last.

Hawkeye also made tin-lined picnic baskets in the 1930’s, called “refrigerator baskets” to keep cold foods chilled. The woven baskets came in muted colors such as my green, maroon, and dark yellow. The Redmond company from Peru, Indiana, also made baskets similar to the Hawkeye picnic hampers in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, as well. 

Picked up for a song on Marketplace, my favorite basket from the forties came with everything but the food!

Picked up “for a song” on Marketplace, my favorite basket, from the forties, came with everything but the food!

Vintage picnic “hampers” are right at home with vintage camper decor. I couldn’t pass up the “never out of the box” 1940s Jerywil “Wov-N-Wood” cherry-red picnic basket, complete with utensils, box of napkins, and red dishes.

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It fits perfectly in the dining area of the camper, and now holds dishes and linens. The top is a good spot for a travel turntable when we listen to records while camping, or for displaying vintage blow molds at the holidays. It’s also not too heavy to actually pack up a picnic lunch for three!

Love the bright, cherry red color of the wood and inside, as well as the reusable picnic ware!

I just adore the bright, cherry-red color of the wood and inside, as well as the reusable picnic ware!

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Another popular piece of the 1950’s was the “Skotch Kooler”, made for the mad-for-plaid set. Like an oversized tin drink can, the bottom ¾ of the cylinder holds drinks along with matching plaid cooling elements (often missing, as they were literally tin cans filled with water and chilled. Many burst, or rusted through long ago).

 

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The large cooler came in “Mad Men” Scotch plaid, with a matching lid.

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Under the lid, a fitted, plastic recessed “plate” would rest on the rim. This served as storage for sandwiches, keeping them seperate from the cooling elements and drinks, chilled but dry. This popular, ingenious little number “married” the tin picnic basket with a cooler. (Don’t get me started on my love affair with vintage coolers…).

I’ve had this rustic, green-plaid-fabric-lined picnic basket with a double hinged lid since the 90’s, mass-produced but still charming, once purchased at a craft store.

The day we brought home Mittens was a happy one. Now ten years old, she is still so sweet I swear she is made of pure sugar!

The day we brought home Mittens was a happy one. Now ten years old, she is still so sweet, I swear she’s made of pure sugar!

Ten years ago, we used it to bring home my daughter’s sweet kitty, Mittens. Not nearly as sturdy as the mid-century-vintage baskets, it now conceals my fabric stash, in my sewing room. 

Ahh! Summer! I can’t wait!

Ahh! Summer! I can’t wait!

Picnic baskets are charming, and make great, decorative household storage of all sorts of things. I grew up in hot, humid weather; while I adore the four seasons, I still love summer best. Maybe that’s why I love to enjoy a lil’ bit of summer, via a beautiful picnic basket, all year long. 

Wishing you a wonderful summer ahead, a Happy Mother’s Day, and a Happy Memorial Day! Thanks for dropping in; remember to leave a comment below so I know you were here! See you in June!

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

Leave a comment 26 Comments

  1. Prudence says:

    I’m on vacation in Fl. so no better time to find a good picnic place. Thanks for the inspiration! Such a visual treat.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Prudence, Lucky you! Soak up some good sun and sand for me! I am so glad you enjoyed the post; thank you for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  2. Juie says:

    Love This!!!
    I have a childhood friend that collects metal picnic baskets. Didn’t realize in 1888 there was a picnic basket company
    In Burlington, IA. (That’s 80 miles from us)
    Enjoyed your pictures and your “background ” stories of the different types of baskets…
    Thanks so much.

    Julie

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Julie, thank you! I am so glad that you enjoyed the post! They really do make great storage, and were made so well “back in the day”. The little one reminds me of Dorothy’s in Wizard of Oz! Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. Sandi King says:

    Nicole, I love all your picnic baskets. I had one that had plates and tableware in plastic but was well worn out when I got it. It went in a yard sale a few years ago. I do have lots of tins, the ones that had popcorn 3 flavors in them and I use them for storage too. Going to have a yard sale this weekend in our community so maybe I will pick something grand up or maybe sell something grand to someone else. Have a good day.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Sandi, I love tins for storage of all kinds, and those popcorn tins are great for that, too! I love the big tins similar to those that are from the 1940’s and 1950’s that had chips, marshmallows, or lard in them, though I have never found one in my budget! Love going to tag sales, too, happy hunting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Heidi says:

    Such lovely baskets, thank you for sharing

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Heidi, thank you! They also make great storage for knitting projects. Have a happy spring! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Leisa Joan says:

    I’ve also collected quite a few picnic baskets, some with plates & cutlery included.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Leisa, aren’t they nice? I love how they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  6. Beverly Battaglia says:

    Nicole, You have a lot of baskets! Good your house is big enough to show them. Very nice blog. I love summer best of all too!
    Love,
    Mother

  7. Marilyn says:

    I have one of those vintage baskets. I found it out on the curb for trash pick up from an antique store that was going out of business.
    Marilyn

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Marilyn, wow! What a lucky find – you were in right place at the right time! Thanks for reading and commenting. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Hi Nicole, I am a basket lover too and have collected many Longaberger baskets of all shapes and sizes. I also have purchased patterns for many of them to dress them up and use them in every room of my house. I did not know about most of the picnic baskets that you own, so I find your basket collection story very interesting. I have seen some of those in resale shops here in Wisconsin but never purchased any. I too use my baskets to store items like you do. Thanks for all your interesting articles. They make my day. Bye the way, last months article about the turquois collectables took me back to the 1960’s when I was a little girl growing up in the country, my mom had a lot of turquois dishes and serving items in the kitchen, even flour and sugar cannisters. I was just about ready to donate the few Melmac dishes that were left but could not bring myself to part with them, so many happy memories eating around the kitchen table. I put them under my indoor flower pots and use them to bring in the tomatoes in the summer. Thanks for your wonderful articles.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Patricia, Longaberger baskets were so nice! The parties were such fun to go to back in the day. I have the recipe basket with lid and liner – almost 30 years old and filled with treasured hand-written recipe cards. I loved that their building was shaped like a basket. I am so glad you found a repurpose for your melmac dishes! Thank you for reading and commenting – it means a lot that you enjoy the blog. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  9. Lauri Neumann-Grable says:

    I too LOVE picnics – it always puts a smile on my face.

    Lauri

  10. Deanna Taylor says:

    Nicole…loved the post. We received a woven picnic basket for a wedding present back in 1962 from a favorite aunt. It was well loved and used over the years and went on many a picnic with our three boys. One summer they started hiding zucchini from each other in crazy places. Out on a picnic to the river, I opened up the basket to get out our lunch and was greeted by a very large zucchini! Sadly it got caught in a flooded basement room and was ruined 3 years ago. I still have the plates and utensils in their little zippered container. Thanks for the memories!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Deanna, Oh, I love the sweet memories you shared, but I feel so sad for you to hear that your basket got ruined. I understand. We lost all of my childhood (and vintage) Christmas ornaments one year when our garage flooded. I was a teenager, but still feel sad that I lost the Christmas stocking that my beloved neighbor, who was like a grandmother to me, hand made and beaded when I was only four. I still remember it. At least you have your plates and accessories. Have you ever looked on eBay for a replacement basket? I know it isn’t exactly the same, but worth a shot. Anyway, thank you for reading and sharing. Have a happy summer! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  11. Deb says:

    Nicole, I enjoyed your article on the baskets. It was so interesting. I found a basket in the Country Sampler store(years ago) that was small and had a decorative lid. I think it was meant to be used like a purse. A little online research is on my schedule after reading your article.
    My husband is from Iowa and a Hawkeye sports fan.
    Love the basket collection and your kitty, Mittens, is adorable. Our cat is named Fifi and pets bring such joy to our lives.
    Hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Deb, thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed the post. Your basket sounds really cute, too. Don’t you just love researching the treasures we find? I think it is part of the fun. I love your kitty’s name – so cute! Yes, our pets do bring so, so much joy! Happy Memorial Day, to you, as well. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  12. Lisa Simmons says:

    Thank you Nicole, After your post I did look around the house and found an old picnic basket that I had as an ornamental maybe this Summer will be a good time to fill it and take to the beach for a picnic creating new memories!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      That’s great – I am glad you found one. Enjoy every minute this summer! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  13. Love the article on vintage picnic baskets. My mom had a vintage picnic basket and plaid cooler which went with us to many family reunion picnics. I live in Iowa and was interested to learn of the Iowa picnic basket company in Burlington. Also Iowa Hawkeye fans. Fun collection to have.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thanks so much, Marlene! I have really enjoyed finding and using the baskets. It always amazes me how they are so well made and have lasted so long. Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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