An embargo on rattan exports by the Indonesian government is thought to be threatening the livelihood of antique restorers, who use woven rattan to resurrect Victorian dining chairs and similar fine furniture.
Rattan is a generalised name for around 600 species of vine-like palms belonging to the Calamoideae subfamily. Both the cane and its outer fibre (which can be woven) have been of economic importance from ancient Egyptian times, particularly with regards to seating. Buy a Victorian balloon back dining chair from a Cumbrian antique shop and you will often find the seat is supported on a woven rattan base, even if the frame is carved from oak or mahogany.
From Georgian Louis XVI-style armchairs to Edwardian Arts & Crafts furniture , rattan is important to both the antiques industry and the furniture Restoration trade. However, the chances of finding an authentically restored, cane-bottomed antique balloon back dining chair in Cumbria could be slim, following a decision by the Indonesian government to place a five year embargo on the export of semi-processed and unprocessed rattan products. Indonesia exports 80 per cent of the world’s raw rattan supply, much of it to furniture manufacturers in the Far East, and the ban was meant to revive Indonesia’s own flagging cane furniture industry. However, the backlash has hit small consumers such as craftspeople and furniture restorers, who face both a scarcity of materials and rocketing prices.
While synthetic rattan substitutes are available, they are unsuitable for antique dining chairs , which as Lancashire antique dealers know, must be restored as authentically as possible. An online petition has now been raised, imploring the UK government to ask Indonesia to issue special licences for the furniture restoration trade.
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