Caned Furniture Case Study: Other uses of rattan


Figure 12. Window sash before restoration, made from whole rattan in various diameters. Image courtesy of author.

Other uses of rattan

The quantities of rattan imported into London from the late seventeenth century were substantial even allowing for some quantities to be exported, as recorded in the Customs Records.[1] However not all rattans were used for caned furniture and this produces difficulties in calculating the number of caned chairs made in any period based on the number of rattans imported in the period.   In the process of undertaking research some intriguing applications have been discovered.

An obvious use is in baskets of all types.  In Scotland, bundles of jute for linoleum were tied with rattan, which was salvaged to be made into fisherman’s baskets.[2]   Rattans exported to Gibraltar from London were found to have been used to make large gabions (baskets) which were filled with sand for use in military defences.[3] Made in large numbers throughout the period were walking sticks and fish traps of various designs. Rattans of different diameters were also used in umbrellas, crinoline hoops, ski sticks, sewer rods, chimney sweeps sticks, armament baskets and broom handles, before more suitable modern materials took their place.

A use of rattan, which has defied explanation for some time, is ‘cane sashes’.  This was used in conjunction with the term ‘cane chairs’ on Furniture Maker’s Trade Cards who typically worked in St. Paul’s Churchyard in the late seventeenth century.  In mid-2013, a number of cane sashes made from whole rattan were discovered in a country house in West Yorkshire.  They were used to place behind glazed windows of ‘below stairs’ rooms on the front of the house, to prevent visitors from looking into these rooms.

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[1] The Author has analysed import and export of rattans to and from London and other UK ports detailed in

the Customs records 1697 – 1869 held at the National Record Office, Kew, typically referenced ‘Cust 3’ for

each year.  The source was noted as ‘East Indies’ but after 1780, specific ports of origin were identified. 

[2] Basketmakers’ Association Newsletter, 132 (2010), p. 9. 

[3] Exports of Rattans to Gibraltar 1728 – 1766 in the Customs Records of Exports from London.  Discussions with the

Gibraltar Museum in 2006.  Whole rattan was used to create sand filled gabions (baskets) as defences, after all

available wine barrels had been used.