The history of lightships are seemingly a forgotten story that we feel should be remembered for generations to come. As you read on, the story of the lightship unfolds and yields an unexpected treasure. In an effort to keep this history alive, as well as the spirit of the original basket weavers, we introduce Time & Tide. Island lovers at heart, we have been inspired to continue weaving together the past and present. Not only will you take home a little piece of island history, you will be creating an heirloom.
A lightship was an early seafaring vessel designed to function much like a traditional lighthouse. Just as lighthouses were established to warn mariners of hazards along rocky shores, a lightship was stationed at the south shoals of Nantucket, extending 35 miles out to sea. These waters were challenging and of great concern to the captains of passing vessels as there were hundreds of shipwrecks during the early 1800’s. These wrecks lay on the ocean floor today. To prevent these disastrous shipwrecks, in 1856, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts funded the building of lightships. These ships had two tall masts on which large whale oil burning lanterns were hoisted. These lanterns supplied light at night to passing vessels, which could only be seen for a few miles in the best of New England weather.
It was during the early whaling industry days, “Lightships Baskets” emerged as a cottage industry for Nantucket crewmen to pass their time onboard. Their craft was as much a means of distraction from loneliness as it was a source of extra income. The basket production aboard south shoal vessels of Nantucket was unique to this offshore location. While the baskets are no longer made on lightships, they are still called Nantucket Lightship Baskets.
Ladies handbags became popular as an accessory in the late 1940s. During this time, it was a common tradition for a girl to receive a lightship basket upon graduating Nantucket High School. Today, the craft has evolved to include many different styles of baskets as well as bracelets, necklaces, and other accessories. Welcome, Time and Tide.