Since collecting and/or selling antiques seems like fun and is in the news, outside observers may not know that professional antique appraisers and dealers have concerns regarding the economics and direction of the industry. Many new TV shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars give the illusion that you buy something for a reasonable price and sell it for more and all is fine and dandy. The problem is selling the item. Modern technology has not only brought us TV shows about antiques, but it has broadened the choices of how, when, and where items are sold. This increase in visibility is good, it has brought an ease to collecting and new collectors into the market; however, like all other industries the antique business has been affected by changing technology and the economic downturn. J. Michael Flanigan, an experienced Antiques Roadshow appraiser, paints a mixed picture with rather dim colors and muted hues.
In the article, he talks about his early days in the business when a recession hit older dealers would say business and prices will come back stronger. However, he feels that this recession is different due to several factors which include: people not hedging bets against inflation with silver, people not wanting to appear pretentious with art, changing tastes, external influences on what defines a “good” antique have lost impact on people and disappeared for the most part, and technology. He feels like casual buyers in the market do not appreciate or understand the role of an expert. He also states that, “dealers with large inventories will seem as odd as the idea of building speculative “McMansion” homes seemed last decade, during the heyday of the housing market. In fact, dealers will function more like real estate agents, matching buyers and sellers for a commission much the way auction houses do. ” He states that auction catalogs will probably become to costly for auction houses and be replaced by electronic catalogs.
He does give a weak nod to mid-century dealers with the following: ” In the areas of folk art and Mid-Century Modern, I still hear of a dealer doing a house for a client and maybe that will continue, but I expect dealers in these areas will find the pressures of the recession and the cost of inventory are forcing them to become advisors and or decorators.” I would disagree with him on this point, at least for the metro Atlanta area, we see mid-century items sell for good prices and have an average to strong demand. I think this is because the average piece(I am not talking George Nakashima here) of mid century furniture is a good buy when compared to new offerings from contemporary furnishings stores. I also believe that Atlanta is a young and vibrant city. While Atlanta has been affected by the recession, during the first wave of declining housing values, many areas of Atlanta did not take as big a hit as other regions of the nation.
The one point with which I strongly agree with my fellow appraiser, Mr. Flanigan, is that people are dictated almost solely by sight when making a purchase. I think that this is not only directly related to the Internet in the “search, click, and then buy” action but in the way this mentality has shaped people in general. I don’t see people studying about antiques and coming to the market with knowledge. They go primarily by sight when buying an object. Flanigan discuss how this reduction of all senses into one frightens him. His comparison of on-line shopping to on-line dating is interesting. He writes that relying on a written description to evaluate a piece and then purchase it is as unsound as reading a persons’ on-line profile and praising their interpersonal skills,as touted by a standardized test, in hopes of winning their hand.
In talking with area dealers, I find that some with lots of extra cash are hedging their bets that we will come out of this recession and customer buying will jump back up to previous levels. They are buying “cheap” and stashing away the inventory. Others are getting out of the business. Others are trying to buy only low-end stuff and sell to the entry level. Most are being more selective about what they purchase. When I traveled out west to Arizona this summer, I noticed quite a few stores had gone out of business. I saw this in both the average and high-rent districts. I believe brick and mortar stores as well as antique shows in regions that are least affected by the downturn in the economy will remain, while areas that are more depressed or rely on tourism will see decreases in number. At this time, on-line shopping will continue to be stable and will probably increase.
I hope you found this dual reflection of expert antique appraisers to be helpful. If you find, you need someone to evaluate your collection using all five senses please contact us for a consultation. As an Atlanta area expert antique appraiser, we are here to help you benefit from our careful study and expertise.