Compared with the heyday of antiques collecting, prices for average pieces are now “80 percent off,” said Colin Stair, the owner of Stair Galleries auction house in Hudson, N.Y. “Your typical Georgian 18th century furniture, chests of drawers, tripod tables, Pembroke tables,” he noted, can all be had for a fraction of what they cost 15 to 20 years ago.
That is from Tim McKeough at the NYT, there is plenty more evidence in the article. I can think of a few hypotheses:
1. eBay and the internet have increased supply more than demand. It is much easier to sell an estate, or the contents of your attic, than before. But the upward potential for demand in the market isn’t nearly as significant. Some people say “well, I would in fact buy and collect antiques if I could get the right 18th century pieces at 40% their current values,” but many more people just aren’t interested at all.
2. The article also demonstrates that many buyers are refocusing their demands on newer pieces. Our attitude toward the past may have changed in some fundamental way, with items before a certain date just not existing in most people’s aesthetic universes. It’s a bit like how people collect Elvis memorabilia, or even just treat Elvis as less iconic than they used to.
For many people today, “an English antique represents something that is kind of sad and tired,” said Thad Hayes, a New York interior designer who has recently been emptying antiques-filled homes and designing new rooms with contemporary pieces for wealthy clients both young and old.
Contemporary design, he said, “represents something that’s a lot more optimistic and positive.”
3. Homes have changed: “More homes have open-concept, casual living spaces rather than formal dining rooms and studies, which reduces the need for stately mahogany dining tables, chairs and cabinets.”
4. The aesthetic of the internet itself has pushed people away from “old and musty.” Just look at the kind of images you see on Instagram.