In the present state of the antiques market, it seems like an eternity since there was a feeling that our products could be bought and sold with any kind of rapidity. Turnover is not happening, and any sale is a welcomed event. Will this ever change; will there ever be a broad based rise in industry activity, and what kind of luxury item are antiques anyway?
While the contraction in the number of dealers at all ends of the market has been increasing over the last decade, the rate has definitely picked up with the present economic recession. You can see it in vacant stores and turnover of dealers participating in shows. You can even see that situation with the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly having fewer and thinner catalogues with combined periods and categories. Another glaring feature of the present state of the economy is the folding of important shelter magazines that featured antiques and interior decorating such as Metropolitan Home and House & Garden. Is this to be a continuing phenomenon or have we hit a bottom?
By many accounts this present economic recession is the deepest since the Great Depression, but many economic analysts have also concluded that we have reached bottom and have started to show some signs of a recovery. My grandfather’s business failed in that period because his customers couldn’t pay him; it was also the time (1938) that he went into the antiques business. With taste as a wild card, antiques should benefit with a recovery, along with cars, watches, and real estate. At least one would hope so, but how much longer can we wait for the turnaround to affect this segment of the market? Antiques and art somehow present a different set of purchasing criteria and methods than buying a car, watch, or a home.
I’ve always felt that the expression “all ships rise in a high tide” is particularly relevant to the antiques industry. Higher dealer turnover has a definite trickle-down effect. For there to be a reversal of fortune in this business an economic turnaround is going to be imperative. The other side of the equation is not the monetary value of the items, but the social demand to want and live with them. Aside from the money, antiques require some knowledge and an appreciation of what they are. It is a different buying experience than purchasing a Mercedes Benz or Toyota, that you intend on getting rid of after the lease or you want to trade in for a newer model. That Rolex watch gives a status level that is different than owning a Chippendale arm chair.
In most cases luxury items have been created with well a thought out and implemented image branding. If you look at how successful industry products and services are sold, both new and old, the shaping of that image is critical. Luxury must be presented as having an added or enhanced value. Need I say more about antiques; but how do dealers creatively present that image? At least the auction duopoly has succeeded in doing that.