Refurnished Thoughts

Discover Vintage America - JUNE 2019

Rising from the ashes

by Leigh Elmore

Two articles in this issue of Discover Vintage America touch on the existential question that has been rampant in the antiques and collectibles trade over the last decade: Is the trade going through an extended bear market – can it survive?

In our cover story veteran writer Anne Gilbert offers ideas on what continues to bring value, as well as a few that don't. And columnist Peggy Whiteneck points out that the antiques trade is intertwined with the overall economy, and if young couples can't afford basic housing, they don't have any place to put their antiques.

Obviously, there's been a lot of hand-wringing over the state of the antiques market for quite a while, and all during that time new antique malls keep opening where there weren't any before, auctions are thriving and young people are actually interested in collecting things, just not Aunt Martha's collection of Georgian furniture.

Like business generally, trends come and go, and business owners need to be cognizant of that and adjust their merchandise to meet the demands of the market.

Writer Tim McKeough writing in the New York Times observed: "Since the turn of the 21st century, the value of much 18th and 19th century furniture has plummeted. Shelter magazines, once look books for rooms bursting with lyre back chairs and giltwood credenzas, more often show pared-down interiors with just a few older pieces – or none at all."

Some reasons:

Internet shopping has increased supply more than demand and eliminated geographic market differences. It has also affected people's aesthetics.

Attitudes toward the past have changed, with items before a certain date just not existing in people's aesthetic universes. For many people today, an English antique represents something "sad and tired".

Homes have changed with more open casual living spaces without formal rooms.

Others note, however, that the fact that values of traditional Georgian and Victorian furniture have plummeted has led to panicked reporting that the entire antiques trade is going the same route. Just because furniture sales are down doesn't mean the entire trade is cratering.

Please note, collectibles are booming, with total sales estimated at $200 billion in 2017, according to These are the items you'll find on the shelves of your local antique shop. It also reports that brick and mortar antique shops rake in $17 billion per year. So, there are people out there buying things. A lot of people apparently.

The challenge, as always, is for dealers to know their market, and if it doesn't reflect their own preferences, make the changes necessary in themselves to satisfy their customers. It's hard to pull off the reverse.

Jason Jennings in his book Reinventors: How Extraordinary Companies pursue Radical Continuous Change states: "Adjust your approach or refine your inventory. Ninety percent of the companies listed in the 1955 Fortune 500 have closed, gone bankrupt, or merged with another company. The only chance any of us have for prosperity is to constantly reimagine, rethink and reinvent everything we do and how we do it to remain relevant. We must all become re-inventors, and we'd better do it quickly."

Leigh Elmore can be contacted at
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