Back in the day, dealers were the backbone of supporting prices in a market that they not only dominated, but kept the value fluid and sustainable. Take out the dealer participation in today’s world and along with a precipitative drop in overall consumer demand, pricing seems to have little foundation. Letting the markets forces begin to evolve, you get a structure that is only effective as an internet exchange, where buyers and sellers can and will negotiate and buy. All terms of the sale are up for discussion.
The idea of a working decorative arts market exchange has been something I’ve dreamed about for 30 years, since the advent of the internet. It was always this medium that offered the best reach and transparency for all buyers and sellers, including dealers, auctions, consumers and private institutions. Making an offer is not an insult but a recognition. An offer price can be rejected, modified, and or accepted. How the results end up is not pre-planned or entirely predictable. A bit of passion must enter the equation for the buyer while the seller must become detached from the item.
However, trends are hard to fight and creating new ones is easier than reviving existing tastes and styles. The timing to understand when a trend in the arts starts, crests, and replaced with something new is to know how we all evolve as a society. For the decorative arts, this process has been practiced for centuries. By just tracing the French styles from Louis XIV to Art Deco is staggering; American Revolutionary Period furniture to the designs of the Mid-20th Century seem inconceivable. Trends are the elixir for the arts; decorative arts need that recognition as an all-encompassing, creative, and livable media form.
Which gets me back to pricing as a measure of value for the decorative arts. Just like any form of art, the value should be more than the physical product. Style, color, form, function, material all are part of an equation of comparison to similar designs. Market pricing is something that the internet has aided in the form of the online market places such as 1stdibs, Invaluable, and eBay. There will always be a tug between dealers and auctions as to how consumers and collectors recycle their pieces. The selling function can happen successfully in both formats. Dealers and auctioneers vie for merchandise where quantity, quality, and style have different stratas.
Pricing has two parts, a starting valuation and a market settlement. Buying a pair of 19th Century bamboo and lacquered pedestals has more issues involved than the purchase of an Art Deco wall mirror. If you think moving a sideboard into your home is a problem, try hanging a chandelier. The decorative arts have additional cost that any seller knows are potential issues and problems that can deter consumers. This isn’t Amazon and it’s not buying a stock or bond. Reasonableness will win out. If there is limited demand or that style is so far from the present trend, the price is as low as giving it to charity (if they will even want it).
As a dealer, the price I offer is a combination of a lot of factors but a selling price also involves a different set of considerations. It is this fluid feature that competes with the ridged buyer’s premium enhanced auction process. But the auction process is a very necessary evil, as some formats of the process are presently operating. It’s unfair to the buyer, but auction fraud has been going on actively in this country for most of the 19th century as well (FRAUD, An American History from Barnum to Madoff, by Ed. Balleisen). Dealers have shown their ability to perpetrate fraud too, but the best advantage that a dealer has is being able to “buy it now” at the right price!