Monday, November 26, 2018

The Fall Of A Basket Empire

On a whim this weekend, I went to look up the ongoing of fate of The Longaberger Company.  You may remember them from the 1990s to 2000s, a basket company that sold all its units through home sales. Originally in baskets, they branched out to pottery and iron working as well.  The last time I wrote about this almost two years ago, they had laid off 96% of their employees from a high of 8000 employees and $1 Billion in sales in 1999 (A brief history of the company is contained in the above link).

But now they are gone. In Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, from which you do not emerge.  Their baskets now dot the electronic marketplaces of E-Auction and Bitsy for (literally) pennies on the dollar that we paid for them.

We have baskets here at home, coming out our ears - I believe we have them in every room of our house.  Our regular dinnerware is all Longaberger and we have Christmas dinnerware as well.  I hesitate to think at this point of what we spent in current dollars on all of this.

And now, it holds the position of being both priceless (in the fact that it can never be replaced) and almost worthless (in that it has little to no cash value).

As I had written before, two communities (Dresden, Ohio and Frazeyburg, Ohio) depended largely if not completely on this business (Dresden was the founder's birthplace) and (if my quick research was correct) are now largely in a very bad place because of that.  It makes me sad - I am a lover of small towns and saving them and it is likely that within 10 years, they both will be very small places to stop for gas in and nothing else.

The most vivid memory I have - and at the same time, one of the saddest ones I have - was when The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I visited in 2004 and as part of that visit, went to the plat where they processed logs and performed some basket weaving.   After the tour on our way out, I remember a number of the employees waving to us and saying thank you.  It was only later that I realized that there was quite likely as much desperation and hope in those wavings as there was sincerity.

In our age of disposal items and "less is more", baskets and pottery were likely not to survive very well (and the bankruptcy, I suppose, proves that).  Some of them will circle the Interweb while others (likely ours) will eventually be passed down and given away (mostly to charitable causes I suspect as none of the children will want more than a handful).  Within a generation they will likely be relegated to curios in the house of elders, something for a child to look at or play with or hold things.  Perhaps they will flip it over and see the signature of the person who wove the basket, wonder why someone signed the basket, and them flip it back over and move on.

A forty five year old saga ended this year.  Within another 45 years, no-one will remember.


  1. Well, I'd never even heard of them but they sound like something I would have enjoyed. I love baskets and pottery, but you're right, they seem to be going the way of the dodo. I used to participate in heritage day spinning demonstrations, but too many people would ask (in sincerity) why bother when you can get the same thing at walmart. No! You can't get the same thing, I would try to explain. But they didn't understand.

  2. Just went to a antique store in Millersburg Ohio and the amount of Longaberger baskets for sale was shocking. I have quite a few myself and will just pass them down. It's really a shame.

  3. Leigh, I think you would have - except that they were rather overpriced for the market (although they are all handmade and super sturdy) and part of the built in price was the sales commission that went up the chain. Rather than smartly manage their market they oversaturated it.

    As to the other part - yes, you can get almost anything for cheaper than you can make it. But people do not appreciate that the making of it is part of the joy and practice of it, not just the actual object self. We now live in an age where instant gratification is more important than the creation of an object.

  4. Hi Theresa! The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I went in 2004 - did the Bee, the Homestead, and Dresden itself. I am not surprised that so many are available - the secondary market has probably just about fallen out and (most) people only need a certain amount of baskets.

    We have more than our fair share. I am sure we will pass them along and give them away. The pottery (by far) has proven to be the greatest find - we continue to use it as our every day dining ware.

    Thanks for stopping by!


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