Good eye by Peggy Whiteneck

Discover Vintage America - MAY 2017

What's hot and what's not – the top and bottom 10

In the March issue of Discover Vintage America, Editor Leigh Elmore's column reported on the annual Ashford Institute for Antiques and Collectibles Survey. This month, I thought I'd follow up with a couple of what's hot/what's not observations from Terry Kovel, who most readers will recognize as a nationally famous name in tracking trends and prices in antiques and collectibles.

This figurine of a bird on branch is marked Capo-di-Monte. Terry Kovel notes that the search popularity of the brand name may result from consumer confusion between antique Capo-di-Monte and modern companies using the name and mark more generically. This particular modern example is of high quality though that is not universally true of modern porcelains with this mark.

What's hot

In an article in her March 29 newsletter, Kovel lists the "Top Ten" among the most popular searches on her web site (www.Kovel' for the first quarter of 2017:

1. Fenton glass
2. Depression glass
3. Bavaria
4. Wedgwood
5. McCoy
6. Stoves
7. Delft
8. Capo-di-Monte
9. Occupied Japan
10. Nippon

Kovel thinks the search interest in Capo-di-Monte results in part from consumer confusion between antiques and more modern issues from several companies using the same name and mark. Aside from observing that she's also getting a lot of letter inquires about Fenton glass, she doesn't elaborate much on the list. It's difficult, for instance, to know with any specificity what people were looking for under a search term like "Bavaria" (porcelain? clocks?). The item that really raised my eyebrows on the list is "stoves" – which, go figure! 

Still, Kovel's results are consistent with the Ashford Institute survey reporting high consumer interest in glass and ceramics: The top two categories in the Kovel list are also glass (with Depression glass being specifically mentioned in the Ashford survey as well), and seven of the remaining eight are or could include ceramics.

What's not

In a March 2012 interview with the publication The Bottom Line/Personal, Kovel identified the following "not hot" categories. Although this intervew is now five years old, her point remains that time is not likely to change the fortunes of these items.

  1. Hummel and Precious Moments figurines (except for rare and larger Hummels and those made prior to 1949).
  2. Anything made by/for The Franklin Mint – Kovel notes a similar decline for Royal Copenhagen plates and Danbury Mint coins.
  3. Longaberger baskets – Kovel traces the demise of this interest to the company's decision to begin marketing expensive limited editions as "collectible."
  4. Limited edition Barbie Dolls – Kovel notes that mint-condition Barbies produced in 1959 and into the 1960s still retain value for collectors, but the later limited editions specifically marketed as collectibles do not.
  5. Thomas Kinkaid paintings and prints – Kinkaid had a cult following in the 1990s, among whom he was known as "The Painter of Light." Aside from the aesthetic limitations of his work, it was issued in such huge quantities that it has long since slaked any buyer interest.
  6. Autographed sports memorabilia – The problem here is shady provenance and forgery. I would only add that autographs and other memorabilia that can be authenticated to famous athletes still command high prices – as we can all tell from reading the auction records in the trade press.
  7. Vintage lunch boxes – The exception according to Kovel is boxes featuring lithographed themes that are of interest to collectors of those particular themes, (e.g., Star Wars).
  8. Cookie Jars – A reader comment on the Kovel interview noted that the problem here is not so much that people aren't still collecting cookie jars but that they're not willing to pay inflated prices for them.
  9. China sets – I would claim the market for these has long been soft. Dinnerware sets are such a staple household item and so cheap to acquire at retail that everyone already has at least one set. Kovel particularly notes flowery Haviland as having fallen on hard times.
  10. Collectible plates featuring famous artists – such as Norman Rockwell.

For dealers, the lesson here is that consumers, not manufacturers, determine when and whether an item is genuinely "collectible." For buyers, the lesson is to buy what they like because they like it, not because they're relying on it as a retirement investment.

Peggy Whiteneck is a writer, collector (and now dealer) living in East Randolph, VT. If you would like to suggest a subject that she can address in her column, email her at