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Herring Scale Basket [Passamaquoddy] | Unknown Artist
Native American Basket
A large late 19th century herring basket made by the Passamaquoddies. It stands about 15” tall by about 19” in diameter. Made of woven strips of ash with an ash wood handle, thousands of such baskets were used in the fishing and particularly the sardine industry of the northeastern coast of Maine and southwestern coast of New Brunswick in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many were brought be canoes to the sardine factories from the nearby Passamaquoddy communities. The baskets were used to transport freshly caught herring from the holds of small sail powered carrier boats that brought the herring from where they had been caught in fish weirs to the sardine factory wharves. There the herrings were brought from the boats to the wharf decks one basket at a time using a simple hand pulled pulley and rope system. The baskets of fish were then dumped on tables where the heads of the herring were cut off by young laborers using large knives. The cut herring bodies were then poured back into baskets and lugged by hand to the next step in the then very labor intensive process of turning herring into canned sardines. This herring basket example is rare as few survived once the sardine industry became much more mechanized early in the 20th century and such baskets were no longer needed. Later the 20th century, such baskets were used by the thousands once again to deliver herring scales by boat to the newly developing pearl essence industry in the region that used herring scales in the production of such products as nail polish. Examples of these later herring baskets are much more common and are often marked with a large letter on the side of the basket to denote which pearl essence factory the basket belonged. The earlier late 19th century herring basket was found for sale on eBay by a seller in Quebec and purchased by the Tides Institute for its collections. When the basket arrived at the institute, it still had a few herring scales attached to the ash strips of the basket. Artist: Unknown Artist Classification: North American Basket Old Accession Number: 1516 Circa: 1920 Description: Herring Scale Basket. Passamaquoddy. Purchased on Ebay from Marc Boily of Quebec in 2003. Basket still had a few herring scales on it when first received in the mail.