Supply and demand are the measures we use to gauge a price. The influences which have a cause and effect on those functions are fluid and every changing course. Sounds like a classic definition of how antiques are priced. Whether it is negotiating with a dealer or paying the highest price (including the staggering buyer’s premium) at auction, a price is agreed.
With all the news and reality that prices for “antiques” has dropped, there are always exceptions that buck the trend. 20th Century decorative arts have certainly not lost ground. The key to demand in the antiques business has now more than ever been subject to style preference. That preference has a lot to do with lifestyle and importance of the home. However the missing element to this emotional connection to the image of what one lives with is price; are antiques a better deal?
Pricing antiques is not an exact science. Pricing the stock of Sotheby’s, or IBM on any given day is usually within a reasonable range, unless something of a dramatic nature is disclosed. Auction estimates are intended to be that range. Are auctioneers the new securities analyst for antiques? How many of them get it right? Of course with the ability to manipulate prices with sham (or chandelier) bidding up to a reserve, the natural balance is altered. But can antiques (even 20th Century) really compete with modern reproductions and their pricing?
The cost of quality reproductions today has a competitive advantage not necessarily with price but in availability and customization. You can go to the Decorator and Designer Building (D&D) in New York City and completely select everything you need of high quality for your dining room in a day; furniture, lighting, fabrics. Just try starting to find a good antique dining table. Even if money is no object, your task to find antiques to fill the bill will be daunting and time consuming. Even if you have an overriding passion for them, it’s frustrating to find items you like.
Maybe the time is right for the public to know that antiques are the last real value in home furnishing. We know they should be timeless and have an intrinsic value. Maybe they are even priced competitively with modern reproductions, and waiting 3 months for a sofa to be made could be the time you need to look for an antique. That would be nice, but injecting the passion and effort to hunt for these things is a big leap of faith.
It is ultimately the objects that have to make their case. Trends and styles evolve and change. Today the opportunity to survive as a dealer and auctioneer is more challenging and daunting than ever. When the public can feel comfortable to enjoy owning and acquiring antiques the economic benefits to the industry will be self evident.