Markets are driven by the concept of investment, meaning that, eventually, someone will want to capitalize in some form or another on what they have purchased. Because markets rise and fall, that concept is both true and false and/or one has to believe that the term investment does not necessarily mean that the buyer will gain on the sale, the buyer can also lose. What is most interesting about the concept of investment, however, is why we think we know well enough to purchase something with the thought that we might gain from it in the future.

English antique furniture was such a hot market in the 1980’s and 90’s that people would ask me if they could make money on their purchases. Hence a great many antique dealers, a few high end dealers, but mostly the middle market, would readily say they would. I had a hard time with that idea because it discounted all the knowledge that surrounds the buying and selling of antiques. Not only does it include knowing what to buy, but where you need to look to buy, how much you should pay, the costs of restoration and shipping and a host of other things. Selling has similar exigencies that need navigating. Like all markets, it is more complicated than it looks to be on the surface.

The allure of English antiques is not as great as it once was, at least on the surface. Closer examination, however, reveals that really good items are selling well. A sale of English furniture from the Metropolitan Museum did very well at Christies this fall, hinting that the market hasn’t really fallen so much as contracted. But because, the market no longer supports thirty or so top end as well as a raft of middle level shops around the world, the market appears to be in free fall. Again, this is a nuanced situation, one that isn’t exactly clear.

Buying and selling today, therefore, is a delicate balance. The concept of surefire investment is more remote than ever, but that does not mean that the value of English furniture is down. Buying and selling are an exercise in patience, at least at the high end of the market. Dealers still in the game, unless they don’t really need to sell, will make good deals, but not always, because some pieces of furniture are just too good to compromise on. So the market, therefore, is not ripe for investment because no one sees a future in it. In my mind that is the wrong end of the stick. Living with it in the present is quite wonderful.