So What’s Happening In The Antique Market?

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November 24, 2011
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…well I have a few thoughts!

Lots of talk recently about the value of antiques. I am constantly asked about what is selling and what is not.  I usually respond with, “I can tell you what sold well at our last auction, but it could be totally different at the next auction!”  And of course there is an element of truth to that. However, I strongly believe you have to think about who is going to buy the items you want to sell.  I  received an email with photos from a person who has an 8 piece Eastlake style parlour set for sale. I responded that I really wasn’t interested in the set for auction, because I really didn’t think it would bring enough money to make it worthwhile for either one of us. Think about it.  Who needs 8 pieces of uncomfortable, impractical furniture to fill a room?  Maybe one or two for decorator items, but not a full set.  It is sad to think the pieces are over 100 years old, but they just do not have much practical value anymore. Every week and sometimes every day, I get calls about dining room suites.  I do not buy them, and only will take them into the auction if I think they are particularly good.   If you have a 1920’s dark walnut dining suite with veneer chips, missing handles and loose chairs, who is going to buy that?  Who wants to fill one of the main rooms in their home with that quality of furniture?  It may be a 90 year old set that once belonged to your grandparents, but once again it now has very little value. In the 1980’s and 90’s I attended auctions that would sell 6 or 7 dining room suites and 6 or 7 bedroom suites almost every week.  They were coming from the U.S. by the truckload and the dealers couldn’t seem to get enough of them.  However, think of the size and style of many of the homes being built during that time.   Big homes, big dining rooms, open foyers and people needed furniture to fill them. Now many of those same people are downsizing and moving into much smaller homes.  They don’t need the dining and bedroom suites any more, or the big cupboards that filled the hallways. Young couples usually now are moving into much smaller first time homes. Look at the condos being built in Toronto.   It seems like everywhere you look downtown, there is a new condo building going up.  However, consider the size of most of those condos.  Ikea has built a huge business designing furniture to accommodate smaller homes. This year I have sold several large two piece, mirrored back Victorian sideboards, and none have sold for more than $400.  The very best one I had sold for $300.  I kept asking myself why? They were all great pieces and selling for very little money.  Then I spoke to several dealers and all of them said there was very little demand for them.  Too big, so they don’t sell.  Wonderful old pieces, but the market is for good, functional, smaller practical pieces of furniture. Back in the 1980’s and 90’s almost every piece of pine, ash and oak, was stripped and stained with golden oak or honey pine.  You couldn’t go wrong with that colour.  One dealer I know refers to those times as the “honey money” days. Now there is a trend toward painted furniture,, and I can understand the desire for colour and variety when you are decorating.  So, many of the “golden oak” and “honey pine’ pieces just don’t bring the same money they did ten years ago. Glass and china has seen a steady decline over the last few years. Victorian cranberry, satin glass, pressed glass etc not bringing what it used to.  But, consider who were the big buyers of those items 20 years ago.  Now many of those buyers are into their 60’s, 70’s or 80’s and  are selling their collections. Victorian glass is usually not as popular with younger buyers as perhaps art pottery would be. Epergnes not as popular as an art deco centre piece would be.  Younger buyers are usually not buying the same style of antiques as their parents and grandparents did. Now lets go back to the 1860’s and 70’s. Most homes were furnished in simple country pine furniture. 1880’s and 90’s  most homes were furnished in Victorian style pieces.  Lots of clutter and knick knacks…lots of collections.  Turn of the century there was a move to Eastlake and arts and crafts.  Clean, simpler lines, and a change from the “busyness” of Victorian furniture.  By the 20’s and 30’s there was a move to Art Deco. Now lets move ahead to the 1970’s.  Antiques were just gaining in popularity and pine country furniture was the style.  By the 1980’s and 90’s Victorian furniture and “collectables”, Ltd Editions, collector plates etc were all the rage.  People often filled their homes from top to bottom with “stuff”.  Then a move to simpler lines, arts and crafts furniture by 2000.  Now we are back to the less cluttered, simple lines, modern look of Art Deco. I know I may be generalizing a little here, but to me it seems clear the cycle has just repeated itself. So the antique market is still there.  It is just changing.  One dealer recently told me, he often hears other dealers telling him they can’t sell furniture anymore.  His response was, “they are just not buying the right pieces.”  That is very true.  You gotta have the right stuff. This applies to the auctions as well.  The right pieces are still bringing good money.  We are getting some of the biggest crowds and best sales we have ever had.  It is just a matter of filling the auction with the right stuff.  We have our share of low end and tough to sell pieces, that almost seems inevitable, but  75 -80 % of the bidders actually purchase at our sales. So the times they are a changing…but they have always been changing.  The auction market is still strong, and the antique market is still strong, but no doubt, they are changing. Rob IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS ABOUT THIS OR ANY OTHER ARTICLE, FEEL FREE TO EMAIL ME AT  ALWAYS NICE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
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