Good eye by Peggy Whiteneck

Discover Vintage America - APRIL 2020

Surprisingly hot (and not) market trends

Each year, the Asheford Institute of Antiques conducts a survey of what’s selling among more than 2,000 students and alumni who all own businesses in the antiques and collectibles trade (e.g., shop, appraisal, and estate businesses). These item categories are then ranked from most popular (#1) to least popular (#14).

Barrel-shaped garden seats large enough for people to sit on are a traditional form in Chinese porcelain. I bought, for $128 in 2005, this unusual and strictly decorative set of miniature hexagonal versions (5” high and 13” in circumference) with cash-pierced tops and painted medallions amid a raised enamel field. I subsequently had it assessed by an expert in the field of Chinese porcelain, who dated it to the Republic period (c. 1910). The painting of the florals and flying insects in the medallions is exquisite. As older versions of Chinese porcelain have become scarcer, items made in the Republic period are now avidly sought by collectors.

The poll also slices and dices the data by age groups of proprietors, which may parallel to a greater or lesser degree the tastes of consumers from these groups: ages 20-40, 40-60, and 60-80. There are always some surprises on the list (

Here, I’m just going to highlight some of those, both in the 2019 survey and in a separate interview with antiques maven Terry Kovel from the March 2020 issue of The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles.

Number 1 on the 2019 Asheford survey of popular sales among the 20-40-year-old dealers is textiles, which Asheford describes as “the biggest single move we’ve ever seen in one year. From worst to first in 12 months, and it’s all due to one particular area of the genre – vintage clothing.”
Decorative glass also sells for this age group, which is somewhat surprising but parallels an observation I’ve previously made in this column: the younger the consumer, the more interested they are likely to be in Grandma’s glass collection even if the second generation isn’t.

Proprietors among the 40-60 age group and the 60-80 group report strong sales in automotive and related items such as gas and oil advertising. Of this category, the Asheford survey report notes, “Competition amongst dealers for the best-of-the-best in this category, from auto emblems and signage, to oil cans and gas pumps, remains tight, with prices expected to rise.” Terry Kovel also reports strong interest in this category.

Another hot ticket category among proprietors in the two older age groups is Victor-iana. In fact, the survey noted that, aside from textiles, no other category achieved such a dramatic jump in popu-larity, including both furniture and decorative items. Among consumers who are primarily collectors, especially in the Northeast, “top quality examples are setting the pace and selling first.”

However, dealers in the 40-60 age range also reported that Victorian furniture seems to be a particular interest of “cash-poor millennials” because it is often more affordable than buying new.
As noted also in my last column, jewelry, including costume jewelry, is a hot seller for proprietors in both the 20-40 and 40-60 age groups.

Chinese antiques are strong among the oldest group of dealers (those who have built up a business over decades and can afford to deal in them). Authenticity remains a challenge because of reproductions on the market and with authentic examples being bought up by Chinese nationals interested in repatriation of these art forms. However, the survey reports record prices in Chinese bronze and porcelain “for even average objects.”

The category that seems to have lost the most ground is silver; it made the last-place list among the oldest dealers and didn’t even register on the lists for the younger two groups. Sales are reported as flat and, while high-end pieces still sell, they do so “for a fraction of what they once did.”

Terry Kovel reports that the work of women painters and other items made by women is, as she puts it, “going crazy” in the market, a trend with which she confesses herself “delighted.”
Kovel’s biggest surprise in hot market trends, though, involves – of all things – women’s purses!
“I never would have imagined!” she said.

The report also noted in a kind of aside that dealers are buying up Depression Glass collections on the cheap, banking on the interest in this glass to rise again. It’s one of the ironies of Depression Glass that it was so cheaply made that it’s doubtful that producers ever expected it to be durable enough to achieve antique status!


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