I never have seen such a time for opportunities in the antiques decorative arts world. The merchandise is certainly available in all periods and styles, as museums have acquired all they need and the final generation of collectors and over-decorated residences is passing on. With the glut of inventory saturating auctions and little or no demand from consumers (not to mention a dearth of dealers), Adam Smith’s iconic laws of supply and demand have hammered prices. With that, prospects in this industry are now percolating.
Whatever the future holds, the powerful forces of taste, style, function, and knowledge will always be vital components to a valuation. The one fudge factor is how an items is marketed; does is send an emotional or functional message to a buyer or have an interesting provenance. The whole image of what these decorative items represent is at a critical point for the future success of this commodity. Buying at Newel, Sotheby’s, or 1stdibs should really mean nothing, as all three can bring a sense of prestige and cache. But it’s the actual ownership of the item that should be the important part of the transaction for the buyer.
With the advent and now domination of internet portability and access, antiques and the decorative arts have now shrunk from actual touching to postage stamp size screen presentation. Color and proportion are digital interpretations; how can you bridge this substantial gap? Digital technologies like 3-D help but the best results today require being in all places, all the time. A showroom is essential but the next best thing is physical access to the location where the items is to be used. However, this is not like buying anything else on the internet. Shipping is the link between the buyer and seller, and these items are not shoes or electronic devices.
Last week, Newel completed the purchase (at auction!) of a large segment of the vast collection build by Maxine Kaplan for her prop company. The fun and challenge for us will be to absorb the incredible diversity of the merchandise, which is dominated by Vintage and Mid-Century accessories. Collections like this will never be duplicated in its sheer diversity and quantity, because it was created with the idea of renting not selling the inventory. In a familiar way that was what build Newel and sustained the Company into a 4th generation.
As opportunity meets preparation (my grandfather’s favorite expression) Newel’s timing to aggressively purchase items in this collection will dovetail into our strategic plan to return to our rental roots. The selling side of the business involves an industry just now trying to find an equilibrium from a devastatingly long downward trend; it’s something we can’t control. Having the opportunity to reinvigorate our inventory in one fell swoop while focusing on the rental side of the business is quite a compelling circumstance. Our preparation for this has been in our DNA but we seemed to have lost our focus on having fun at doing what we do best, creating commercial or residential imagined interiors of any period and style.