Hi, Lidy Baars from FrenchGardenHouse here. Nothing makes me happier than to set my dining table or tea table with a beautiful, gleaming silver Bride’s Basket. Inspired by my love for shiny, elegant things, I bought my first Victorian “bride’s basket” long before I became an antiques dealer. I was 16. When other girls my age saved up for a Beatles album, I saved up for a Victorian silver cake basket. Over the years, I have bought and sold many of these beautiful baskets, one of my favorites to Phyllis. I am thrilled to share a little of my love for, and knowledge of, these cherished wedding gifts of the Victorian era.
The History of Bride’s Baskets
Silver has long been used to mark special events, and silver baskets, now called bride’s baskets, became extremely popular in the 1880s as a luxury gift for a bride on her wedding day. An elegant expression of beauty, love, and graciousness, silver baskets made of coin silver and sterling silver were used in weddings in the early 19th century by flower girls to scatter flower petals down the church aisle—or in the case of extremely well-off bridal couples, costly orange blossoms.
By the mid 1800s, wealthy brides used silver baskets during their wedding ceremony, and it was also customary to place the basket on the main table during the reception luncheon or dinner to showcase the bridal bouquet. Once the bride and groom, now a Mr. and Mrs., returned from their honeymoon, the happy couple used their basket to present cake, sweets, or fruit while entertaining and prominently displayed it as a centerpiece on their sideboard for elaborate dinners for friends and family.
It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 19th century, however, that the bride’s baskets we collect and admire today were made. Silver companies began to produce more and more affordable pieces in quadruple plate (silver plate) so that they would appeal to a larger market. Instead of being sold “by appointment” in exquisite jewelry shops only, silver and semi-luxury gifts were being sold in dry goods retail emporiums such as Macy’s in New York and Le Bon Marché in Paris.
Many companies produced silver-plated holders, and a glass insert, often hand painted, was chosen to complement the stand. Highly favored as wedding gifts, the baskets were made by many illustrious manufacturers such as Pairpoint, Meriden, Reed & Barton, Rogers Bros., and Britannia. The bowls were made in almost every color with crimped, ruffled, or fluted edges; cut-glass bowls became popular after 1890.
Along with stands and glass bowls, companies also made “cake baskets” of silver plate. Often decorated with inspired hand engravings of fruit, flowers, cherubs, birds, and vines, all symbols of new life for the bride and groom, there were almost as many variations as there were bridal couples.
It is noteworthy that the manufacturers did not call these “bride’s baskets” but cake or fruit baskets. The name “bride’s basket” is a more modern reference to these baskets. The bride’s baskets went out of favor as “the” wedding gift in late 1905.
The baskets, both those with glass inserts as well as those without, are avidly collected and much sought after. They are beautiful to display on the table, filled with cake, fruit, or flowers.
I have used the baskets in my home for their original purpose but also in our guest bathroom with exquisite soaps and antique hand towels, filled with shells in the summer on our coffee table, and to display antique Christmas ornaments for the holidays.
If you want to collect these treasures, look for the best quality basket you can obtain, with no damage to the plating, especially to the engraved floral design in the bowl. Some wear is to be expected, as these pieces were used and are more than 100 years old. There are collectors out there who do not polish their silver and prefer the dark patina of time, but if you want to be sure what the silver looks like underneath, I suggest only purchasing pieces that are polished and cared for, from a reputable dealer or shop.
For the glass insert-type of basket, look for a bowl without chips or damage to the hand-painted designs. The bowl should fit firmly in the stand; if it moves around quite a bit, the bowl and stand are most likely a marriage and did not start out together. This decreases value a bit but should not mar your love for the basket if it is in beautiful condition otherwise.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about these lovely antique baskets and will grow to love them as much as I do!
See previous posts from Lidy:
Do you collect bride’s baskets? I’d love to hear about it!