The Future of Antiques Collecting
by Bob Brooke
Ever since the dawn of the 20th century,
antique collecting has been in the realm of the wealthy. For a while in
the 1960s through the end of the century, it seemed that the market had
opened up to a wider audience. Lots of items came on the market through
garage sales and flea markets, as well as used furniture stores. In
fact, that’s when I began collecting antiques.
These items were affordable and offered lots of variety for collectors.
Most of them were from the 1880s through the 1940s. Retro hadn’t
appeared as a trend as yet, so most collectors didn’t bother with
objects from the 1950s and 1960s. But people generally had developed a
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By the dawn of the 21st century, many Victorian pieces had been gobbled
up by these new collectors. High-end antique dealers and their rich
clients looked down their noses at most Victorian antiques, sticking to
the notion established by the U.S. Congress in 1930 that an antique had
to be 100 years old. At that time, that period coincided with the
beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the turning away from
handcrafted furniture and accessories. To some extent, many high-end
dealers and their wealthy clientele still look down on Victorian items,
except perhaps those grand pieces produced by the Hurter Brothers of New
York and other top makers.
Then something happened to change antiquing forever—the birth of the
Internet. While that mystical birth actually happened a couple of
decades before, it was the appearance of first eBay followed by other
auction sites that turned antiquing into a bidding game. Prices began to
climb, not because the items were worth more or because they were scarce
but because ordinary people out-bid each other to buy them.
prices slowly climbed, the average antique and collectibles collector
couldn’t keep up. What they had purchased for modest amounts back in the
1970s and 1980s and even into the 1990s was now going for twice or three
times as much.
At the same time, antique auctions began
to attract a different clientele, one that owned large homes and had
plenty of discretionary income to spend on furnishing them. When these
newcomers saw something they wanted, they bid until they got it. Prices
became so high that antique dealers couldn't afford to buy some of the
better items. And they boosted the retail price of those they did buy so
that they could make a profit.
Leap forward several decades and a large number of people, born between
1908 and 1938 are dying, leaving their antiques and collectibles to
their children. The problem is that some of their children don’t want
their antiques or collections they’ve amassed. So this will put a lot of
items on the market that haven’t been there before or at least in a long
However, not only do the children of those who have died not want
antiques, those younger than them don’t want them, either, which is
putting the antiques trade in somewhat of a quandary.
to a recent article in Kovel’s Antiques Newsletter, thousands of young
people are collecting tiny toys made of plastic that come in sets.
Shopkins, for example, are tiny grocery store items that started the
craze in 2014. Others include tiny sports figures called TeenyMates and
others based on Disney characters called Tsum Tsums. Sold in sets and
often in what’s called a “blind box” that hides what’s inside. Young
collectors can play with, sort, and trade their collectibles with other
kids. Kovels believes that these kids will graduate to historic and
decorative antiques and collectibles when they get older. While some may
do so, I don’t believe that will happen. Sure, they’ll still collect
things, but more likely it will be fan-based items and pop culture
It’s going to be a new world for antiques collecting—one that will be
vastly different than the one people collect in today.
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