Why are antiques now so cheap?

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.

What else?


I'll be the first to say this: counterfeits.

Why now more than 20 years ago? It seems to me that the internet would impede counterfeiting more than enabling it.

There is a lot more information available to buyers, with reputation and reviews being ubiquitous. In the past, buying secondhand items was usually a shot in the dark, but on a site like eBay you can have a high level of confidence that a seller with a good reading won't rip you off.

Plus the internet is full of information and communities for hobbyists, raising the information level of buyers and letting news spread quickly.

In addition, as Tyler notes, the internet makes it easier for genuine pieces to be found.

Perhaps there are some countervailing effects (easier international trade with countries that might house counterfeiting operations?) but overall, I'm skeptical that the internet would unleash a new wave of counterfeits.

There is no more counterfeiting now than twenty years ago, possibly there is even less, as you say, but my point is counterfeiting has gutted the market for antiquities. The test for this would be to look at the market for ancient artifacts and see if there's a parallel, or at "Old Masters", which can also be forged with modern aging technology (recall Martin Braun's expose of the famous Vermeer forgery in Differential Equations and their Applications--what a classic tome).

As best as I can tell from a quick Google search, this hypothesis holds up, notice how "Old Masters" have declined in market share in the last twenty years, see: https://www.artprice.com/artprice-reports/the-contemporary-art-market-report-2017/renewed-growth (over 40% market share in 1999 to less than 20% market share by value today).

Of course, 'counterfeiting reducing the value of Old Master and antiques" is one variable but you can also say "changing tastes" is another variable, as well as "affordability", but my point is that counterfeiting is a variable not considered by TC, and he did ask "what else?" and I answered.

Finally, last and least, Tyler said nothing about internet and genuine pieces (CNTRL + F + "genuine" = zero hits).

Ball back in your court.

Not fakes. Making good fake 18th century and early 19th century antiques requires hard and careful work; selling them can be dangerous to the seller's reputation and, potentially, freedom. Fakers and sellers of fakes are willing undertake the work and risk when the market for their product is "hot" because: (1) the money is good; and (2) buyers don't look as hard at what is allegedly a very rare and desirable piece so it moves quickly. When prices fall by 40% or more the main incentive is obviously lost and the piece sits on the market longer attracting doubters and driving the value even lower. Nowadays, fakers are creating mid-century modern pieces which fly out the door for good prices to people who may not even care if they are authentic.

In part, I think the western world is in the process of rejecting it's own culture and past. Too many deplorable white men were around doing to many deplorable things in the 18th and 19th century to make guilt-ridden and/or hate-ridden moderns feel comfortable with beautiful old things.

And the woke kids are nostalgic for 1950s Americana? To some men with hammers, everything appears nail-like.

China reproductions and Hobby Lobby

Modern paintings are easier to counterfeit than Old Masters. A Chinese guy in Queens was churning out dozens of Abstract Expressionist fakes in his garage for a few hundred dollars each, which Knoedler & Company sold for up to $17 million:


Nice anecdote SS, thanks. My counter-anecdote is that I've read in Mexico they bury stuff for a few years, dig it back up, and sell it to hapless collectors as the real antique thing. Of course in tourist traps like the Mexican Aztec ruins and so on, you'll have vendors selling fake ancient looking things as "authentica" but that's not what I'm talking about, but slightly higher up in the value chain.

My daughter was working for an art gallery in Santa Monica. She discovered a forgery that the gallery owner had bought from Christies. She has a MLS degree and was going provenances. She found that his new painting was a fake and he sent it back to Christies. They gave him his money back (six figures) and probably sold it to another buyer who didn't check the provenance.

Also, companies like Restoration Hardware. "Old" style + new construction + cheap.

Restoration Hardware is definitely not cheap.

I think it is a mix of 2 and 3. People today are much more likely to have an Ikea style set-up, and the antique aesthetic doesn't really mix well with it. Even if someone really likes a particular piece, it would look weird in a room with contemporary stuff. I'm in my 30s and I can't think of anyone in my cohort who has an antique anything in their house. Maybe wealthier people do.

Of course some do want an alternative to the modern, more minimalist look, but they are more likely to prefer say 50's/60's things to real antiques. My wife insisted we drive my grandmother's canary yellow formica table and vinyl chairs halfway across the country because she thought they were cute.

You beat me to my second point: real antiques (as opposed to counterfeits) take a lot of research to get right (recall the Persian rug story TC linked to the other day) and are only for the Wall Street mavens who have money. Today's 30-something still lives with their patents and has no good job.

Bonus trivia: John Thain of Merrill Lynch paid $1.22 M in 2008 to remodel his office, including spending $35k on an antique crapper.

And just my personal view: If you're one of the tiny, tiny minority of motivated 30 somethings who is married, has kids and has managed to move out of mom's basement and get a mortgage, unless you're quite wealthy, it is probably a little stupid to be spending money on antiques (as opposed to $15 avocado toast).

Haha! good point, except presumably the antique is an investment (if it's not counterfeit) while the avocado toast is just toast, a perishable good.

Ray, Millennials want experiences (like toast), not THINGS. And we don't "invest". In fact, for years I thought a 401k was a walk to raise money for safe spaces.

"...is an investment.." Yah! You are on it! The greater fool theory of buyers is, 'I may be a fool to pay this price, but there will be a greater fool than me after me' - and, now that prices have dropped, people are no longer confident that the greater fool will be there. So then you look at the table, and think, does this provide table services (holds the plate and silverware for my guests at a dinner party) and do I enjoy looking at it? And those factors don't compel thousands of dollars in purchase price.

@Jan who sez: "Ray, Millennials want experiences (like toast), not THINGS. And we don’t “invest”. In fact, for years I thought a 401k was a walk to raise money for safe spaces" - LOL! And I thought you were joking (maybe you still are) about the toast. I recall eating avocado for lunch back in the 1980s and people thought I was gay. Back then they ate burgers, fries and Coke while I ate today's 'health foods'. That's maybe why I look younger than my years and have a hot Filipino gf half my age (she's in her 20s). But she likes, as do most people in PH, junk food and 'investment' here for most people is not spending all your money on payday. Half the people here in PH don't even have a bank account (PH banks actually charge you fees if your balance is not over say $1000 in pesos, which most people don't have, it's sad). The millennial revolution is alive and well here! Insofar as antiques go in PH, they sometimes build with wood from teak and other hard tropical wood like ironwood, narra wood and the like, illegal in the USA, that lasts 1000 years but anything else rots in about 100 years or less, so unless you build with stone, there are few wood antiques in the tropics. Few books too for the same reason. All rotted away.

To dave schutz's point: Antique dealers will tell you not to refinish a valuable antique, and to be very careful about repairs. This is a problem if you want the thing for function. Also additional wear and tear will not necessarily increase value, probably the opposite. So using the antique investment might decrease its value. We have several items of functional old furniture, but none of it is rare enough to be labeled antique.

I’m an older version of one of those minor success stories. You know what I’d rather spend money on? Doing stuff with my kids ... and a really well made toaster.

Style is one thing (if people prefer newer), but if it's cost: Many years ago, when I moved into my first apartment, my mom said she'd buy me a dining room table and chairs. We went to an Ikea type store, and they were fairly cheap but ugly. My mom said "Let's go look at some antique stores" - for LESS money, she found me a table (really beautiful design and wood, with leaves that folded out with a complicated wooden mechanism) and 4 chairs (that she stapled some new fabric on). I used them for about 10 years, until we didn't really have a place for them. Even after selling them on consignment (easiest way) with a 60/40 split, I got back more than what she paid for the table, and way more on the chairs. If she had bought something from Ikea, they probably would have been almost worthless.

My millennial son and his wife have already purchased, worn out, and thrown away an Ikea couch. Their wood furniture is mostly particle board, which breaks even if you try to move it. Cheap crap.

I think people tend to move more now and having to move large heavy furniture is a major operation.

I think you nailed it. Even as a leading edge Gen-Xer with a stable house etc, I have really enjoyed dispensing with heavy furniture of late, selling it or giving it away and replacing it with something basic and simple.

We do have one room in the house that works for antiques, our dining room, because it's done somewhat plantation style - but all we have are faux antiques that are plenty nice enough for our tastes.

> 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.

Until last riday night, I'd never head seen any images on instagram. But then someone at the pub showed me a video of an old lady hitting a balloon with a stick. As far as I know, she was not musty.

This is an interesting regional story from the USA. English culture is a lot less interesting and buzzy in the United States than 15-25 years ago, correct? I'm thinking of those Richard Gere/Hugh Grant films, Four Weddings etc, the Beckhams, Hugh Laurie... nowadays English celebrities means boring royal weddings and royal family. This may seem a little déclassé relative to the buyers of antiques, but it all counts.

Also more foreigners, as Steve Sailor can attest, mean less emphasis on UK/White culture. I bet a lot of people here in Southeast Asia probably literally don't know who Elvis is, but, strangely, can probably sing his songs better than me (they love karaoke). They love obscure songs in the Philippines and play them over and over. Little River band (from Australia! I thought they were US southern all these years) and the Eagles are still popular, as well as a bunch of other 70s artists I barely know myself (I'm not into music at all).

Bonus trivia: is Quincy Jones Motown? Seems that way to me.

No, I don't think he is associated with Motown, despite being black and close to the Berry Gordy era.

What do you mean "Seems that way to me?" He never worked for Motown, so technically, no. Do you mean all popular R&B is Motown? He produced Michael Jackson, but that was after Jackson left Motown. I don't think he recorded with the Funk Brothers.

Here's some real trivia: Is Neil Young Motown?

Good question. Perhaps being from Michigan has instilled in me a narrower definition of Motown.

@Ted Craig - I read Neil Young's Wikipedia page and I would say "no"-- and you?

Bonus trivia on N. Young (Wikipedia): "In 1976, Young performed with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and numerous other rock musicians in the high-profile all-star concert The Last Waltz, the final performance by The Band. The release of Martin Scorsese's movie of the concert was delayed while Scorsese unwillingly re-edited it to obscure the lump of cocaine that was clearly visible hanging from Young's nose during his performance of "Helpless""

I think his pre-solo band signed. Perhaps Toronto's proximity had something to do with it.


J chimes in with the correct answer. Ray doesn't even get a lousy copy of our home game.

Wow. I know nothing about music, but that Mynah Birds Wiki entry was amazing. Are you kidding me? What a line up of Who's Who in the Motown/Rock/whatever world!

Bonus trivia: (Rick James): On the morning of August 6, 2004, James' caretaker found him dead in James' Los Angeles home at the Oakwood Toluca Hills apartment complex, just outside Burbank. ... His autopsy found alprazolam, diazepam, bupropion, citalopram, hydrocodone, digoxin, chlorpheniramine, methamphetamine, and cocaine in his blood.[31] ... James was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. His two-ton, jet black headstone is engraved with the following lyrics from the track Taste off The Deeper Still album: "I've had it all, I've done it all, I've seen it all. It's all about love – God is love."[32]

My brother-in-law, born 1983 in middle of nowhere Indonesia (they didn't get grid electricity, phone service, or a road connection until last decade) was named after Michael Jackson. Interesting how some parts of culture can spread.

Why is it that whenever I'm in a Home Depot or Lowe's in the Bay Area and a Lionel Richie song comes on all the Filipino workers stop what they're doing and start dancing a little bit and get all dreamy-eyed?

I predict this will happen to all the treasured Picassos, Rothkos, and Koonses too (once we're dead).

Sure, but Koons and friends are mainly collected as stores of wealth versus autocracies. Picasso and Rothko are in galleries and will at least live there.

Rothkos look great in a modern open concept setting. It’s the impressionists and old masters that have to worry.

Some combination of #3 and #4 is that the internet and modern electronics have changed how we interact with furniture and use spaces in our homes. We need have devices so furniture with outlets, speakers, etc built in or wireless charging are more useful. TV’s have become massive yet our library’s of music, movie, and book collections are now in the cloud. This has changed our need to use bookshelves for storage; it’s all decorative now.

But also #2 - mid century modern Scandinavian pieces have done very well which suggests it might be asthetics. Everything goes in and out of style.

How many pieces of furniture does the average household have with charging, speakers, etc? I would guess, not that many.

And is this even increasing? 20 years ago everyone had a big computer desk with their mini tower PC, CRT monitor, and printer. Perhaps even more bulky peripherals like scanner and fax. Then there was the huge TV with multiple video playing devices and a multi component sound system. Oh yes, and several land line phones around the house and an answering machine.

Most of these devices are either disappearing or being replaced by tiny gadgets that don't require a special piece of furniture to house them.

I have a PDP-11/70 front panel in as perfect condition as you'll ever see. I wish I'd bought more than one when I had the chance, but I picked the best one.

One area of growth I've noticed is in Chinese antiques, as the newly wealthy are buying back their ancestors' stuff back.

They should have to buy back a containerload of plastic Walmart crap too.

Along similar lines, no one wants the family silver anymore.

THIS. I've been helping my elderly mom try and purge some of her accumulated horde of silver, blown glass stuff, knickknacks and heirlooms. Oh boy did we find out no one wants nothing. Including her kids.

I think it is part supply and and demand, with the supply of people purging like my mom flooding the market. It is also definitely changing taste.

I have this pet theory that European immigrants and US pioneers used to view silver serving sets as a store of value. They were portable and somewhat liquid. This dated back to them hiding value from tax collecting regimes, and also being fairly rootless, all of course in the pre-bank account era. It was also their One Nice Thing, along with maybe a small Shaker chest of drawers. So, as a result, every family had a couple silver candlesticks and a flatware set. It belonged to aunt so and so, and it went with them everywhere almost like the arc of the covenant. This ethos carried over into the depression, when once again silver sets proved to be a store of value, and pieces could be liquidated to keep the farm or whatever.

So my mom is the last generation with connection to that. She inherited collections from the depression era relatives, and she added to the collections because that is what you do. One part investment, one part family tradition, one part vestigial hoarding.

And now, her children are happy with, like, one piece of furniture and a couple candlesticks. But when you add up that we are also getting pieces from both sides of the family and up the chain to grandparents and great aunts. We are maxed both in terms of interest, and space.

So, much of the stuff is going out at pennies per pound, or to a nonprofit thrift donation.

Hold the candlesticks. I would like silver. It has sentimental value to me.

Up through ... mid 20th century? ... acquiring silverware was something a newly-married couple of a certain class did. I'm roughly in my parents' social class, and I can't remember the last time I ate with a silver fork.

Do you have a flat family tree? It's a lot easier to get rid of stuff when a grandmother has 12 grandkids than 4

Agreed. I had read an interesting article that 'brown' antiques are in a steep decline of value because of parents downsizing and their offspring not wanting to rehome them. It seems sad--but also beneficial to me.
I have a Painted Lady Victorian and antiques are pretty much the only thing I have in it.
The only exception is the big, damn, ugly (to me) leather sofa! I was married to a 6'5" man, with a couple of sons in the 6'4" range. They insisted on having a big enough one to flop down on. Hoping to get something more appropriate now that he's my ex (although sons still want to flop down, they don't live at home anymore). There are some newer sofas that would blend better, once I can afford one. I like the dainty little sofas that used to reside in the Parlor but they aren't really comfortable.
Anyway--I digress. I have no more room for more pieces although I am now replacing certain pieces with better ones. I recently bought a kidney shaped, leather topped desk for $400. Not that long ago it would've been a $1,400 piece. Especially since it had still been in the family it was originally built for.
It took a little tlc because there was a white, mystery stain on the leather. Did the work myself and sent a picture to the previous owner--she was thrilled! She sold it to me, instead of someone else, because she knew it was going to a good home, lol.
In the Midwest it's possible to buy exquisite pieces for little to nothing. I'm surprised at how many Arts & Crafts pieces are being sold now. They used to be tough to find.
I understand what a previous post was saying about the mid century tables--the chrome and Formica topped ones. They're still fairly pricey because finding sets in good repair isn't the easiest. But there are good deals too. I've been watching one that's for sale for months now, and the price has dropped by $50... he should've accepted my offer in the first place, it's higher than what he's asking now. But at this point I don't have room. Mentally keep reshuffling my rooms because I really, really want it lol!
It'd been nice if my eldest would come and get some of his Great Grandmother's pieces already. He cared for her so she wouldn't wind up in a nursing home..., he loved her so deeply that they have great meaning. Sooooo.., they're in my house because he's a 30 something and hasn't completely settled down. Sure wish I could move the huge, heavy, marble topped dresser with an enormously tall mirror on it. It's much too dark for my house plus I need to have contractors in to repair old plaster walls--I don't want it damaged.
Sorry to ramble..., I've been watching this newer trend for awhile. I was confused until I read that article.
It made a lot of sense then.

It's not just the high end. The same effect is downmarket too where it is less of a collection thing and more of a furnishing aesthetic. My younger colleagues at work are uninterested in older wood aesthetics, so it would seem to be a reduction in demand rather than an increase in supply, knocking out idea 1. above. We own a late 19th century house that my wife and I bought and largely furnished in the 90s. We purchased mostly wood furniture from the 1890s to 1920, largely quartersawn oak. Prices of that era are cheaper in nominal price than 20 years ago, and because a nice table or china cabinet can be had for $500, ebay is not a factor because they cost as much to ship as to buy. Prices on furniture 30 years older (civil war era) and up until WWII are similarly flat or down. We are in our early 50s, but were in our late 20s when we chose what we (correctly) determined would be a timeless style not subject to the whims of current style. The current younger generation just seems uninterested in this style.

The style will be back. Quality, craftsmanship, materials, function, simple lines. These are timeless.

Every time a a well made piece goes to the landfill because it was supplanted by a laminated MDF Ikea POS, is a tragedy that can never be recovered. Like knocking down a brick and beam warehouse or an 18th/19th century itinerant-architect barn.

The fads are like small children testing how far than can scamper away from mommy, before they scamper back once again and cling to her legs. These are the cycles of simulacra.

There’s still quality furniture today. It’s just a different more contemporary style. The choice is not just between antiques and IKEA level quality.

I'm sure there's quality stuff. But is can be quite expensive, more than antiques.

And while I am probably too cynical about anything made since about 1965: chances are high it sucks. Anything made since 2000 should be expected to be cheap, poorly made, and likely to fall apart on first use. (This is just a guideline of course).

It's anybody's guess what lurks behind the laminate and spray-on finish. The business model regarding quality is upside down now, with many companies planing on a high return rate, they don't give a crap, they just send you a replacement no questions asked. Truth is, most people don't bother returning, they have been conditioned to expect their purchases to disappoint then. The manufacturers did the math, and figured out that a low defect rate is a sucker's game. Hell, even Toyota ditched any pretense of having a QC program.

As a result, it takes an immense amount of research to identify the good stuff in any given product category, and must be up-to-the-minute research, because any brand you come to trust is highly likely to be taken over by PE pirates and promptly cannibalized into garbage overnight.

It's easier, more certain, and quicker to be handmade all wood antiques.

Engineered wood is often better than real wood. Survivor bias means antiques are good quality, though.

"Better" in what sense? You mean engineered contemporary versus all-wood contemporary, or versus antiques?

I agree that the all-wood stuff these days is often shite

A vast number of Tiffany lamps and other glasswork were junked in the early 20th Century because they were out of style. Teddy Roosevelt had Chester Arthur's superb Tiffany glasswork in the White House trashed. We don't have a color image today of a giant Tiffany screen that was among the most impressive art works ever installed in the White House because nobody thought it would ever come back in style.

We are in our early 50s, but were in our late 20s when we chose what we (correctly) determined would be a timeless style not subject to the whims of current style. The current younger generation just seems uninterested in this style.

If the younger generation is uninterested in the style, it wasn't timeless.

Timeless in that it is never perfectly in or out of style. Definitely more in style than contemporary 90s stuff. That was the era of Corian countertops. My dressers with marble tops are holding there own relative to that look.

Well done, Liberalarts! Quartersawn oak is absolutely gorgeous!
I got a Gentlemen's Valet dresser for only $400 a couple of years ago.
It's astounding--it has all these built in little cubbies, including one for keeping your nicest hat in. It's also got a little shelf that comes out, with a mirror that flips up, so you can shave.
I still can't believe that I paid so little for it. I did have to go out of state to pick it up but it was so worth it.

I am often surprised by the sight of cheap IKEA furniture in the homes of friends who can afford quality furniture including quality antiques. Of course, one could say the same about the new homes that house the cheap IKEA furniture, poorly constructed just like the furniture. Furniture, homes, everything today is disposable. Even cars, which people lease for a couple of years rather than buy. I own a car that I purchased almost 20 years ago. It looks and runs like new, but doesn't have the features people believe are essential today including navigation and internet. Navigation? Where are these people going? For a long time I lived in (and remodeled) a home that was over 100 years old (140 years old now). You couldn't drive a nail into the trusses because they were made of wood that was so hard the termites couldn't eat it. Okay, I will admit that the antique Persian rugs I purchased back then have not been my best investment, but they connect me to a different time and place, not unlike the liturgy. No, I don't live in the past, but I am where I came from. I suspect people would be happier today if they had more of a connection to where they came from.

That horseless carriage thing is clearly a fad. A carriage without a horse is like women voting. It may be amusing, but it is not practical.

"Okay, I will admit that the antique Persian rugs I purchased back then have not been my best investment, but they connect me to a different time and place, not unlike the liturgy. No, I don’t live in the past, but I am where I came from. I suspect people would be happier today if they had more of a connection to where they came from."

You mean Iran?

>Furniture, homes, everything today is disposable.

The mattress in a box phenomenon fits into this idea too somehow

Wasn't everything disposable 20 years ago, too? If anything, it seems like there has been a slight pushback against this.

Maybe, some. In general it feels like people don't buy much of anything expecting it to last decades, like their parents might have. Though cars come to mind as something that last much longer these days. A near retirement couple on our neighborhood email list was recently looking for a place that could reupholster some furniture, because the two places in the area that used to do it have since closed shop.

Reupholstering and small engine repair. Who is going to pay $200 to rebuild a lawn mower, when a new POS from China costs $150?

@McMike We had an old 7 ft. couch that needed reupholstering and the estimate came in at $1500. We hauled it to the thrift store, went to our favorite furniture store and bought a new leather one with reclining seats for half that amount.

I'm the same way about newer houses.
I don't think I've seen a single one that I would willingly live in.
The construction of my 136 year old Victorian is so well done.
It's taken time to restore it, because I'm doing it myself.
I was extremely lucky tho--it had been neglected for some time, so the bastardizations were reversible. I found almost every piece that had been stripped out, either in the basement or attic--including the original 'chandelier" (not sure what to call it since it's not what most people think of with that word). I found it in a box filled with mouse nesting materials, including lots and lots of poops. Almost threw the box away rather than stick my hand in! Glad I didn't.
The only part I never found was a section of plate rail that had been ripsawn from the wall--to put in a phone jack! Argh!

I'm inclined to be a snob about IKEA too, but I visited one last year for the first time in a decade and ... was impressed that (a) about half their stuff is now at least adequately engineered (b) prices remain really low (c) like no other furniture or housewares vendor I know, they aim at small living spaces. They're good at what they do and I'm not sure the lower end of the furniture market 40 years ago was a lot better.

Quality and usefulness of furniture has changed.

In the 80' lots of furniture were basically the same as centuries past.

Current furniture has cumulatively morphed into many positive ways.

Old furniture just is operatically way more problematic today

That's my feeling

I am still bullish on antiques. Supply is limited. No one is making more - except a cousin of mine.

Supply increase: Moving into the market instead of being inherited.

I read an NYT article on estate sales recently. The kids don't want to family furniture anymore. It doesn't go with their modernist aesthetic.

Do you think you could find that NYT article again? Sounds interesting, but my Google search didn't get it. Thanks.

referenced here


Here's a similar one http://www.cleveland.com/living-on/2018/02/downsizing_dont_count_on_selli_1.html

The "kids" are around 55 and their homes are already full.

Pieces, not whole sets retain value. Buying the showroom dinette, bedroom set is out... very pedestrian. But more mapped online knowledge to go find inventory at the source: estate sales. Unless shop can provide provenance or fix it, why put old hog hair filler in your space, gross.

Smaller vintage or antique furniture is perfect fit to contrast modern here and there. Craftsmanship not too essential if your Instagram photo has the look. Middle market mcmansions and enormous furniture of any era are excessive and tawdry, signals you're trying too hard or came from less. Look constant, not you've moved up or made it.

Antiques were made, largely, by European ancestors. They don't get as much respect as they used to. Some people downright hate them and blame many of their problems on them! Those ancestors' statues are getting taken down, why would they want their furniture? There's little place for that in the future.


Surprised Tyler didn't mention this.

He made a vague allusion to our changing relationship with the past.

"Those ancestors’ statues are getting taken down, why would they want their furniture?"

So, if I visit the White House, I won't be sleeping in the Jefferson Davis Bedroom?

Nothing like gently asking your parents, "Say, that old gift you gave me. Has it been looted during the war, by chance?" Constant reminders about Social Issues (TM) make it harsh to browse FB or Twitter feeds. More people would rather not look at reminders about empires, wars, and other problems in the form of home furniture.

"Has it been looted during the war, by chance?”
Yes, but the people I took it from won't be coming looking for it. I took good care of them.

At least for Antique cars, a large part of the market is 50-year-old men with money to spend who want the car they lusted after in high school. Hence a cherry Corvette is worth more than a a rare 1915 Pierce Arrow.

I saw an ad for a rebuilt Toyota FJ "jeep". Starts at $85 grand.

Baby boomers die and leave their antiques to their children who dispose of them.

Death and demographics.

Have you ever looked at the age of antique owners on the Antiques Road Show?

The median age of the population of the dying is around 80 as we speak, i.e. from pre-'boomer' cohorts.

I have relatives who liquidate such thinks in advance of death. They age, downsize, kids don't want it, they had fewer kids, grandkids lack space, etc. They are a bit sad that the things that they valued and collected don't have the emotional impact for the next generation. The next generation would prefer cash. So why accumulate things that will be trashed by the next generation upon your death. Collect experiences and spend their inheritance now.

The people who collected these kinds of things are a shrinking part of the population. I had a relative die in Europe with some lovely antiques, but it wasn't worth the time and bother to ship to America. My mother said she didn't know what to do with it; there was nothing she wanted to throw out to make room for anything else.

My mother lived like she was going to move in the middle of the night, a very minimalist lifestyle. Hated the idea of collecting junk. Yes, she was one of those mothers who threw out my baseball cards, comic books, sports memorabilia, toys, etc. when I left for college. (Actually would be somewhat valuable even at today's depressed prices.)

We live and entertain differently today. Sit down dinners are rarer. When my wife sets a table, every diner gets a different style place setting. She never liked the idea of a complete matching set. Her collection is a bit expensive and very esoteric.

My daughter is into the latest electronics or gadget and has little interest in any notion of classic older items. Her prized possessions tend to age out, and she replaces them rather quickly. Favorite toy? She never really had one. She had a favorite type of toy, but they had a rapid turnover.

Her music and movies are digital or more often streamed. When I was young, I collected a few valued possessions and wanted the best this or that which I could afford. She places less value on possessions and prefers unique experiences, more events, more travel. Of course, all her basic needs have always been met.

I bought my first car when I turned 16 with money I saved from jobs I had worked since I was 13. Owning a car was crucial to me. My daughter views vehicles as transportation with little, if any, emotional attachment

Lastly, I think becoming knowledgeable about antiques so that you feel comfortable buying them, and not making a potentially expensive mistake, just seems like too much work. Fear of fraud and dishonesty is just too high.

" For U.S. men, the average life expectancy is 76, while it's 81 for U.S. women. "

Enjoy life while you can. An average is just an average and I don't know the standard deviation.

Well, I think there is also a trend against the idea of 'family treasures' generally. People don't buy silver or china or crystal anymore. Or fur coats. Diamond jewelry sales are in steep decline, too. The same goes for collectibles. I compare my own house to my grandparents' houses and it's funny. We eat much more better meals off of much cheaper dishes, the price of our house would make their jaws hit the floor, but unlike theirs, there's nothing really expensive inside -- if a burglar broke in, I can't quite imagine what they'd bother to steal (no silver, no gold, no diamonds. Maybe they could get a couple hundred bucks for a laptop or flat screen TV).

And grandma's living room was like an antique showroom. Overstuffed ornate furniture and glass collectibles on dainty shelves. All gathered around a baby grand that no one could play. No one even went in there. Might as well had a velvet rope across the doorway.

I like this explanation: It's essentially an extension of the BoBo aesthetic. You could have a pricey antique, but it signals insecurity with your status. Better to show how well you can get by with cheap stuff.

"You could have a pricey antique, but it signals insecurity with your status."

Maybe it's countersignalling. Although there's been a compression in the difference between cheap and expensive stuff. When I was a kid, cheap furniture was really crap. I mean particle board covered in woodgrain vinyl level crap. Now it's Ikea. The upper and lower classes may now have the same flat screen tv, smart phone...and Ikea sectional. Just like smart phones and TVs, (and dishware) furniture is no longer a lifelong investment. It's no longer unusual to redecorate by getting rid of old pieces and buying new ones. Or dumping everything and starting over when you move to a new city. It also feels a bit like the throwing off of Victorian dark, heavy, stuffiness that happened in the early 20th century. There's an idea now of not being weighed down by stuff and not treating it as permanent.

Yes, mink stoles which were the epitome of luxury when I was a kid are now available at rock-bottom prices on eBay. I've been thinking about what I could do with them. Maybe cover the box for my next Arduino project with them.

What is this stuff?

That, my friend, is genuine mink.

OMG, make a TV blanket out of them.

I'm drifting off to a nap already just thinking about it.

My mother-in-law has a fox stole complete with head. She wants to give it to my wife who wants nothing to do with it.

There's no accounting for taste, or for the features of status-signalling. Watch an episode of The Antiques Roadshow and you'll see some handsome early 19th c. piece of furniture appraised for a fraction of the sale price of a mid-20th c. collection of baseball memorabilia or an early 20th c piece of modern art that looks like little genuine craftsmanship went into its manufacture.

The purveyors of The Antiques Roadshow are producing little new content. Public television is now recycling old episodes with which are interspersed asides on the evolution of the price of an item since the original broadcast. The nominal price has generally been flat or declining. (They are now rebroadcasting the re-broadcast, so these asides tell you how much the item was appraised for in 2002 and then again in 2013).

Isn't part of the charm of that Antiques Roadshow show the 'shock value' to the audience when the seller is told his genuine Thomas Jefferson signed memorabilia is worth not $200k but $2k? I think that's what drives these episodes, from the few minutes I've watched that show.

Bonus trivia: how's the market for Art Deco holding up, north of Miami? Probably not very well?

Mid century modern is get only furniture that is holding up well, at least on Antiques Roadshow.

About once an episode, it's noted that whatever piece that's being appraised peaked in value around 2000.

No, aside from frauds, there is typically maybe one item every few episodes where an owner is surprised by how little an item is worth.

The funniest thing for me is hearing stories from people who bought an item in, say, 1975 for $1000 and are shocked (positively) at how much it's worth in 2015. "It's worth $4,500? Oh my gosh!"

Understanding how much inflation has happened over the years is a rare bit of knowledge

And how much there $1,000 item is worth? You mean at retail, if they could find a buyer. Nice that its still got any value at all but hardly a good investment.

A $1,000 earning 5% since 1975 is actually real money $7,400

Such a shame that history is becoming lost. The craftsmanship in antique pieces cannot be replicated now economically. Therefore it is becoming a lost art. It will eventually come back. It amazes me the lack of knowledge in the millenials. Of course there is a few exceptions out there. We are a society of people who want instant gratification. People dont want to spend a day at an auction to get 1 piece or something they have to work om or possibly move. Oh well leaves more,for me!

Not just economically lost. The materials can't be replaced. But also the talent to work magic with wood. Those are lifetime skills learned though apprenticeship and practice, it's the little tricks and intimate knowledge of the materials. Takes generations to relearn.

If the price is not increasing with use and abuse, it's a bad investment.

(If you want something that looks new with no signs of use, just buy a cheap plastic Chinese import which falls in price by 50% on the trip to your house.)

One word: Ikea . They completely transformed how people think about furniture: functional, minimal design

I see a generally declining interest in craftsmanship and craftsmanship is at the root of antique value. If not fine craftsmanship, then it is just an interesting curiosity, much less valuable to me at least. I feel a deep connection to those craftsmen and holding the things that they made carries meaning beyond functionality.

There are remaining pockets of commitment to craftsmanship so I don’t think it will be irretrievably lost. Perhaps in a few years larger parts of the population will feel a need for connection to the objects that surround them and craftsmanship will increase in value.

I wonder about craftsmanship. Given modern tools and materials, for instance, its possible for relatively affordable mass market objects to have perfectly straight lines, smooth finishes, etc. (albeit its often true that you get cheap objects that are poorly made). Think about an iphone, medium priced car, or a Thinkpad - does that qualify as "craftsmanship"?

I have a hard time really putting a lot of value on a 200 year old chair or side table, no matter how well made for their time.

It's an interesting question. Many people report an affinity to certain handmade objects. They "speak" to them. They pick them up and the items feel substantial. It wants to be used. It wants to be in your hand.

Musical instruments come to mind. Also hand tools. And furniture.

I am one of those. I would rather use a rolling pin passed down from ancient hands, or a cast iron pot. I like to feel other hands before mine.

It is the workmanship, but also choice of materials. It is the choice of how to use specific materials at the item by item level, and when (in terms of seasoning for example). It is the allowance for aging and seasonal change. It is in the imperfections.

But hell, I prefer to sit at an old bar, where generations of elbows have polished and rounded ruts in the rail.

I wonder if this would survive a blind test.

"I am one of those. I would rather use a rolling pin passed down from ancient hands, or a cast iron pot. I like to feel other hands before mine."

I guess I lean the other way. I mean, I don't mind using old, handmade things, but I don't fetishize them either. The idea that it took an enormous number of hours to fashion, say, a piece of furniture doesn't fill me with a sense of pleasure but rather a tinge of sadness. I'm not any happier to contemplate slow, laborious furniture-making in the past than slow, laborious plowing behind an ox. I'm happy to realize that so many wonderful things in the modern world cost me so little money (and hours or just minutes of my labor) to buy because they required so little of anybody's (limited, precious) time to produce.

I tend to value things for their functional/design excellence, i.e. how well they are fit for purpose.

I can see the value of a really well crafted item, when that sets it apart in design or functionality. For the old ink pens, for instance, best materials and excellent craftsmanship could yield a much better writing implement. Today ... its hard to beat the disposables.

I wear by choice a 15 year old Timex Ironman watch. I also have a Rolex (retirement presentation) that has never been out of the box. Timex is smaller, lighter, waterproof, keep perfect time, and has a night light. For me, its a better watch than the Rolex. A Rolex with fancy engraving, rare metals, and jewels would be even less good as a watch.

Generally speaking the commenters on this thread have little or no idea of what is going on in the antiques marketplace, a venue in which i have been engaged for fifty+ years in one capacity or another.
The most important contributor to this situation was the market crash. Among many other affects, it revealed the antiques marketplace to be a significant bubble. The immediate haircut was 50%. This was particularly true in the NY market, and the NE market in general, but rolled out across the country at near lightening speed and through most qualitative collecting levels.
[side bar: this immediately put paid to the notion of antiques as an investment. Except for the very best, pristine, material, antiques have never been investment grade. A good rule of thumb is that after a lifetime of enjoyment, a good, genuine antique will realize 50% of its initial cost upon sale. If one is selling a larger collection, some items will significantly exceed 50%, perhaps even in to a nominal profit, but most items will under perform. And forget adjusted returns. They are very rare indeed.
The second greatest contributor to today's market values is generation change. In every community large collections were

In the UK, homes have become much smaller, meaning less space for large pieces of furniture. People don't buy large items of furniture and they sell large pieces of furniture to give them more living space which has resulted in prices for older furniture falling. In the UK there is very little demand for old furniture. and its easy to find people trying to sell old furniture at a fraction of the cost of new furniture.

The main driver of this has been planning restrictions which mean that insufficient new homes are built. Hence to balance supply and demand, existing properties are sub-divided and the average size of a home reduces. I can not find times series data for this but the links above contain recent data on reduction in property sizes showing the average family home has shrunk from 98.8 square metres in 2003 to 96.8 square metres in 2013. This is small by EU terms and very small by comparison to USA and Canada.

There is UK government data which shows the collapse in property building in recent decades. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-house-building

20 years back I got some really nice furniture from a business that was buying container-loads in the UK and shipping them to the US. I wasn't looking for antiques as such, but found I could get great-looking well-made stuff from the 20s and 30s for prices equivalent to good new furniture.

I believe the business of shipping older furniture and antiques from the UK to the USA is still going on. I was also in Buenos Aires recently and someone there said to me that older furniture in Argentina commands a very low price and that companies there buy it up and ship it to the USA. So however low the price of that furniture is in the USA, the price still appears to be lower in the UK and Argentina.

formed in the 50's/60's/70's. These folks are moving on to their reward, downsizing, or collected-out. This has produced a huge supply of higher-quality antiques, far greater than current market participants can absorb. It is still true that when supply greatly exceeds demand prices fall.
Fashion is a third major contributor to the present market. There are fewer shelter mags and they are promoting a more contemporary look. One reason for this is that decorators "sold out" the market for antiques interiors. Once antiques became a reliable source of income they moved on. i predict that dynamic will reverse when they sell out the contemporary scene.
Demographic changes and changes in personal interests are also important contributors. Children have seldom been interested in their parents or grandparents treasures. Thank goodness, they send many bargains into the marketplace. Serious collects seldom appear before they hit fifty. Family formation, college bills, etc. use up all their cash flow. That begins to open up after fifty and they look around, discover, or re-discover antiques. it doesn't take many; just two or three percent will keep the market healthy.
There have always been countervailing forces facing the antiques marketplace. Today's casual, unstructured lifestyle is one of them. But not everyone is in to that scene. Only a few choosing another path are needed to sustain the market.
Finally, market participation appears to have stabilized; there is less volatility and attendance at regional shows give evidence that younger collectors are beginning to return. They are finding that now is the very best time to build collections at modest cost.

thanks for contributing a really useful comment!

I'm noticing some of these tendencies as I near 60: buying contemporary art, for example, which I didn't even consider earlier in my life, becomes plausible. ANd thanks for pointing out that this is a niche market.

I have collections of Pre-Columbian, Native American, African, Americana and Oceanic material. Also, first edition books and some 50's glass and Chinese ceramics. The Pre-Columbian market is dead because of the claims of some Latin American countries. Sotheby;s discontinued their auction of this material. Native American is Ok. but I think it has lost value. The African ivory pieces I have lost value because of sanctions. The Chinese ceramics market is strong. Books are very good. I have a first edition with very fine dust jacket of The Great Gatsby which had tripled in value from a purchase price of $50k.

I had some traditional antiques that I wanted to sell a couple of years ago. The dealers were unanimous - the younger generation are not interested in china, silver, crystal and linen.

Speaking of antique linen, they have a museum of Inca linen with the knots and all in Lima, but it gets second fiddle to the Inca fertility/ sex pottery (you know what I mean if you visit Lima), but the linen, with those knots for transmitting information, is fascinating stuff for anthropologists / archaeologists. Just hard to store and maintain.

5. Socialism gave William Morris a bad name?

The most significant issue is not an imagined "reduction in prices" or market values, but a massive decrease in gross profit margins (or a reduction in the bid-ask spread). If a dealer sold an antique/collectible for $500, he would pay, at most, $250 or more likely $100-150 (or less). An owner might think his item is "worth" $500, but the market value was only $100-$250. The difference is now he can buy an item for much closer to the market value. He doesn't need to go to a store and pay $500, but go online and bid or offer $100-$250

Who used to buy antiques anyway? It must have been a fairly small population as I never saw many houses with them.

Many people are collecting different things today. Furniture from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s are becoming popular because the new collectors can relate to these new antiques. However, the great examples of antiques are still increasing in value. The unique, perfect and beautiful antiques from all eras are still increasing in value. An example of this is the flagging Shaker market; 5 months ago a simple lidless yellow Shaker carrier sold for $10,800. I would take this article with a grain of salt.

I predict this will happen to all the treasured Picassos, Rothkos, and Koonses too (once we’re dead).

Agreed. Can't you all feel a general de-thingumization starting to happen in the culture? The sudden valuelessness of our grandparents precious objects is a bellwether.

My stepson tells me that when my wife and I are gone, he's going to rent a container (he's in construction), empty our house into it, and have it all hauled all to the landfill. No picking through my precious book collection for treasures. No venturing to even attempt to see my wife's inherited china sets or silver flatware. The furniture, the old family photos (images are cheap now), all my fine suits, my magazine collections from the 20s and 30s, our three or four supposedly valuable artworks -- it all goes. "Stuff" means nothing to his generation.

The internet has cut material culture off at the knees, and the collapse, which started slowly, will soon be gathering speed.

Disinherit the little bas turd.

You don't sell antiques, and obviously don't collect antiques. It's better to not say anything about a subject you know nothing about. When you have studied for 35 years, then speak.

What a pretentious, stupid statement. The last 35 years don't seem to have improved your brain a lot.

Competition for high-end buyers.

There may be a greater supply of high-quality well-designed non-antique furniture available than previously.

Partly an unanticipated consequence of aging hippies who learned carpentry decades ago, and moved on.

+1 the luxury good market has become much crowded and efficient

We are all cosmopolitans now. We devalue tradition, heritage, and shared bonds. The values that we commit to, until they change, are vaguely virtuous sounding marketing slogans.

you conclude all this from a decline in the price of old furniture and tchotchkes?

It's apparent from many trends. Even much of WN is just another form of rootlessness.

Simple taste change long term and we are becoming less Downton Abbey like. As the living standards rise for the majority of citizens there is less need for the richest to signal their position to society. in the 1980s, antiques were something rich people would fill their houses with to prove their position. (The high price was a signal to others)

Otherwise, I suspect the more urban living society becomes the more need for basic useful stuff and not show off stuff.

Also the quality of Ikea disposable furniture is improving so there is less supply and demand in general. (Several years agos I convince my wife to buy a good basic couch for $700 versus spending $1,500 to re-apply new fabric.)

Maybe it's a declining confidence in the future? If the future is to look much different than the present, artifacts from the past will be more distinct and valuble. If it's just the present with better iPhones and more degeneracy, antiques are just junk.

#3: a 6+ people dinner table and silverware implies someone will cook, serve and clean after all of them. poor servants and self-sacrificing housewives did this job before. who wants to do it now?

don't blame IKEA, blame fast food. who is offering dinner for 12 tonight at home?

I do 12+ dinners several times a year and 6+ ones about once a month.

But they're casual. Cutlery is stainless steel and mismatched; plates are basic white china plates from a restaurant supply store, where I also buy all our glassware. No patterns, no worries about breaking irreplaceable whatsits. The time and energy goes into making really good food.

Having a good dishwasher makes a difference.

Sounds great.

I also do this with my wife but our comfort zone is 6 people or less . When you do the job, not servants, utilitarianism prevails. As you said, great food is more important than polished silverware.

I'd say the ratio of people to supply of their childhood nostalgia is much different than it was 15-20 years. There's plentiful supply of the nostalgia from the 70s and 80s since most of that stuff was mass produced and as soon as there seems to be a market for it, pieces will get reproduced.

Plus, back then the old stuff was often better than the new stuff. Now, I think the new stuff is getting better and better relatively, even if things are stagnant.

If I had a mansion, I wouldn't mind filling up some rooms or a wing with antiques. Or maybe if I had a second or third home that I didn't spend too much time in, I wouldn't mind having antiques there. But in a regular home that I live full time in, antiques are uncomfortable and just clash with everything else.

Many posts and replys have alluded to it "it" being the decline in prices of antiques. As I see it. The younger collector isn't out there for the stuff we we're collecting because it's what was available to us at family prices. Let alone going out of your busy schedule, trying to raise the one very expensive kid, clothing that ungrateful 💩 and giving it an iPhone so it can look like the rest of it's peers. The thing that has been missed in this whole discussion is the ever increasing gap in the haves, and havenots. The younger generation is more self actualized and understands avacodo toast as opposed to being married to a thing that will weigh you down if you suddenly find yourself without a car, home, or family.
Secondly, the youth have a greater understanding of what wealth is. It is not a 1950 Sunbeam electric mixer with avacodo green Pyrex, or were they fire king? bowls. To make their already meaningless lives complete. Some people already know their station in life and don't want to muddy it up with pretense and artifice.
And yes I have been in the business for 37 years and know a trend when I see one.
Antiques roadshow, eBay, disposable products, Ikea, Instagram, Snapchat, selfie sticks, lips slightly apart to show availability, and sex as a sport. Oh, and facebook. Have all competed for the time of the younger generation of new collector's. Yes, I eat off of paper plates and drink out of red Dixie cups. I have whittled down my collection to the bare minimum, and now I think I still have too much. Moving these heavy items is a big drag on my life.
Which brings me to the latest crazed, vinyl. While I appreciate audiophile quality sound( I'll keep the stereo) the youth and these heavy collections of records is beyond me. As stated by other posters in this thread, music even hi res is available for a monthly price.
So there you have it, my two cents, and a somewhat depressed view of the state of contemporary collecting of our past lives, living beyond our means.

And I drink out of Dixie cups in my bathroom too--but they are dispensed out of a beautiful 1930s glass and chrome cup dispenser. The market doesn't want them.

What else?

I'd like to start with a more comprehensive theory of why people collect antiques in the first place. It's hard for me to imagine myself wanting to do so.

I went through a phase of collecting guitars - not really antiques, but many from the 60s-80s. But it was mainly because I had extra cash and was going through a phase of learning how all the different instruments played and sounded. So for me in that case it was the curiosity of learning what kinds of sounds I could get from different instruments. Then I learned how much trouble it was to sell them when I realized I always ended up picking between maybe 2-3 guitars for different types of sounds/music - and the rest just took up space. Lots of space. And the process of reselling is time-consuming. Makes me not want to collect anything really. I ended up giving away my baseball card collection from my youth for the same reasons.

Before eBay, you had to physically shop and rely on dealers to index inventory. If you saw something you may want, even if in the future, you were compelled to buy because you may not have the chance again and the search itself was a hassle (for many).

Supply-related: No implicit “finder’s fee”.

Used to be pleasantly surprised to walk into some out-of-the-way shop or wander into some rural auction and find something you’ve been looking for/always wanted. You’d pay whatever your dopamine levels required.

Now Google, eBay search alerts, Craigslist search RSS and you can usually find multiple “quarter sawn oak rotating book case | book shelf” (to cite a recent desire). Perfect market kind of stuff.

Works the other way, too. Stuff I would be pleased if the movers would take to the dump for a small fee now finds a good home for a small (and sometimes surprisingly not as small) payment.

Yes, this! Previously antiques were overvalued due to an information asymmetry. Dealers were the only ones who knew what prices should be, and of course had an interest in those prices being high. The market is much more transparent now.

Two words: Mad Men

Im 66. I have twins 29. They feel that all my relatives furniture is junk. I now sleep on my great grandparents bed. Im surrounded by my grandparents furnture and a few good pieces of newer furnture. My 35 year old neighbor bought a "good" hutch and her painter noticed bugs when he moved it. Stuff today comes from asia, from wood we never have heard about that not only depletes the jungles but it is also poor quality. Hopefully this young generation will wake up and realize " you get what you pay for." Meanwhile ill enjoy all my antiques with great memories while they Snapchat.

Haven't wages been stagnant in the US for workers for over a generation now? I would expect very rare antiques to go up in price faster than inflation as the very rich bid for them, but I would expect run of the mill antiques that an aging couple might use to decorate their home to decrease in value in this situation. Maybe someone has information on whether or not this is the case.

The premise of the post is that all antiques are the same, when in fact if you categorize antiques by country of origin you might find a surprising appreciation in value.

So, for example, if you collected Chinese heritage items, or Japanese heritage items, you would find that they appreciate as the country of origin develops a middle and upper class whose interest is to reacquire items now that had been sold abroad earlier.

Surely it is related that first Art Deco designs and now mid-century modern are trendy and much more expensive vintage items than 20 years ago. Eichler homes in CA are now in demand as are Art Deco buildings in LA. People even love Dodger stadium now

i'd love to make enough money to buy a home and furnish with a few antiques.

It seems those with new wealth don't care about it, and those who fancy new wealth are just idlers like me who dream of a bygone bourgeois lifestyle.

We live in a Manhattan townhouse built in 1826. Talk about poor quality workmanship. We have had to do about two dozen structural repairs over the years.
Our taste has just naturally evolved over the years from antiques (for which we have the knowledge, taste and income to acquire at will) to contemporary. Ideas of space and design have just evolved with the zeitgeist. Older homes overlooking Central Park have tiny windows, because the sense of home and privacy were just different back then.

We have many high end fixtures and appliances, ultra high end even. We also have many cabinets by IKEA. They function well and are designed by serious designers. You just have to know what you are buying. An interesting example: a pantry closet in the basement has German hardware that cost $2350 in an IKEA cabinet that cost $180. Our luxury kitchen still has IKEA cabinets we could easily afford to replace or upgrade. The hardware is excellent, and my wife, former art historian and daughter of an art museum director, loves the way they look.

When I went to a largely Jewish prep school in NYC over 50 years ago, they tried to turn us into Wasps. It seems quite ludicrous today, and it was ludicrous and short sighted even back then. No one wants to live that way. Last week we took some lovely antique furniture we had been storing for at least 15 years. We could not sell, donate, consign or give them away. But the Dept of Sanitation was happy to throw them into the hopper and smash them to pieces. It made us sad, but we had no reasonable alternative. Tempora Mutaban, et nos mutamur in illis.

BTW, it is funny to see economists and social science types trying to find the reason for a seismic change in taste. It's not as simple as all that.

Put someone in a beautifully, ornately furnished room today and they're probably just focused on whether it has wireless. And as long as they've got their phone they're happy to sit on a box from IKEA, don't even need the Klogg chair or whatever's inside the box

Increased supply, because there is more history that is relatively well preserved. You might prefer a 1920's piece to an 1820's one.

It's a combination of factors, starting with the first on your list.

GenX and younger generations aren't as interested in what some antique dealers call "heavy brown" furniture. They're also much more casual about mealtimes - so much so, that the fine china that was a profitable mainstay of antique stores for decades now has virtually no market in many parts of the United States. Take these factors, and add in the impending retirement and downsizing of the baby boomers, and you suddenly have a supply imbalance. Antique dealers, estate sales pros, etc, all attest to the same phenomenon in recent years: baby boomer households that not only have their parents heirloom furniture and china pieces, but also those of their parents. With no children interested in taking the pieces off their hands, the market tanks.

Older homes were designed to display more nice old stuff -- like the plate rail going all the way around the dining room, or bookshelves built in to living rooms and dens. Newer homes may have more open space but more likely lack these display details. So nice old items just get boxed up, stored and eventually dumped.

Similarly, many antiques (e.g. breakfronts) were meant to display other smaller antiques. Without one you don't need the other, and vice versa. So you end up calling 1-800-gotjunk to haul stuff away.

Used books were once really cheap on Amazon, when everybody was selling their old books, and books would regularly sell at 1c. Now even with higher shipping minimum you rarely see 1c books. Maybe every bookseller now has software to dynamically price inventory but I think it's because the supply of cheap books has dried up.

Actually the reason you don’t see one cent books anymore is because Amazon banned them in Jan 2018. As a result there are many many more books being pulped these days.

Well that explains it. thnkas

As a 50 year old who appreciates antiques I think a huge problem is that previous generations tended to be hoarders and collectors- there is simply too much stuff out there. My wife's grandmother had a 5000 square foot house packed full of quality antiques (and junk)- she was, in theory, a dealer. My wife's mother had her own large house packed full as well. My parents were antique collectors. And as all of them passed on we inherited all of it... but we were already adults with our own house already stocked with what we liked. So we ended up with over 10,000 square feet of antiques to fit into our already full 3000 square foot home. Even if we liked all of it (we didn't, we tend towards minimalism) there is simply no place to put it all. So we kept a few pieces but mostly it went to auction or the trash.

I think the hoarding aspect came from living through the Depression, and then the accumulation of stuff as a sign of status and wealth. Younger generations may become interested in antiques at some point and the market will pick back up- but in the meantime, what to do with all the stuff? I think there will continue to be a separation of "wheat from the chaff" with high end items maintaining some value and lower end, sentimental favorites disappearing.

Just eight days ago we were talking about Rene Girard and his theories of mimetic desire http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/03/contributions-rene-girard.html

Mr A desires X, so Mr B and Mr C copy him and also desire X. Later Mr D desires Y so Mr E and Mr F copy him in desiring Y. Later still Mr G desires Z and we have to stop and worry about running out of people.

Perhaps Mr B wearies of X and changes allegiance. He copies Mr G and desires Z. We realize that a theory of mimetic desire needs to be a theory in which desire can both wax and wane. Indeed, we ran ahead of ourselves when Mr E copied Mr D. Why didn't Mr E copy Mr A, just like Mr B and Mr C. (We should also ask: how come Mr D gets to be authentic and have his own desire for Y?)

I have no difficulty seeing the rise of antique collecting as an example of mimetic desire. It became fashionable. So do we need an actual reason for desire to wane? Can't social trends just move on; the iPhone was desired by a few and they got copied, making the iPhone the new object of desire. X gets replaced by Y. We see the dynamics of mimetic desire playing out and should attempt to understand the general theory, and not get bogged down in the particular details of MDF versus mahogany.

The staying about stuff is that it owns you at least as much as you own it. And that's particularly true for anything that's large, valuable and somewhat fragile.

For if you take grandma's old furniture you're sure to feel guilty if you damage it, and especially guilty if you ever decide you don't want to pay to move it (again). It's just easier to say "no" once (the first time, before you accept it) than to have to keep saying "no" over and over again.

And, yes, the silver service is more portable, but, what are you going to do with it anyway- put it out once or twice a year (after cleaning and polishing it)? Wouldn't you prefer to just not take it in the first place?

Although falling prices are always self-reinforcing, as you can no longer tell yourself that at least you could get a good price for the stuff if/when you no longer want it.

Perhaps "permanence" (to the extent it's even possible) has been deprecated. After all, AT&T used to make phones to last for forty years; now, Apple and Samsung make phones that may not even last four. And if they did, would you really want to keep them long after there were no newer apps they could run (even if service was still available for them)?

Young people are more comfortable renting than we oldsters were. Always prepared to move. The safe long run job with a pension at the end of it is almost extinct in the private sector. It's like a science fiction movie, one day people will be living in standardized pods with lots of electronics and maybe a little kitchen and they'll be fine with it. It's almost already like that in the advanced parts of Europe and Asia.

I agree that many seem more comfortable renting than owning, but, Tyler Cowen seems convinced that people are less willing to move than they once were, and especially less willing to do so to seek better economic opportunity.

In a word, Boomers.

I discuss the issue here:


Mark Sherman

how about price arbitrage essentially disappearing? It's really easy to see a examples of certain collectibles continuing to sit there at a price that seems too high. You can tell if the market is clearing or not.

It’s no surprise. The prevalence of cheap furniture that is designed to be replaced after a few years, the loss of multi-generational family ties, smaller homes (and relatively more frequent moves), and our ignorance of anything that existed before the era of color TV mean that people just don’t care about antiques any more.

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