The year of 2013 has felt like a long one. Whenever the government could get in the way of economic progress, it did. Hence the alleged recovering economy has not really helped the antiques business. Is there anyone to blame? Of course, the politicians of both stripes deserve a bow, but there are other factors worth considering. The greatest is the scarcity of items that you would wish to sell. The dwindling number of sales with English antique furniture might soon qualify it as endangered.
Back in the 1980’s when English furniture was the gout du jour, I had a discussion with someone about the quantity of furniture that was on the market. What I explained was that a fair quantity of the very good items, say 40% or so, was out of the market for a very short time. The rest of the goods that were being sold were supporting characters that would also be off the market for a certain length of time. But it was the top lots that really made a sale. Their return to the market was essential for everyone in the selling business.
Those items for a very obvious reason remain off the market. The market, clobbered by the financial crisis of 2008, has left a good many of the “assets” of that era severely diminished in value. As a result, many owners of high end goods are just sitting on them waiting out the market. And because the items that made up the supporting cast are unexciting and not particularly desirable in a down market, their recurrence on the market is not desired. In effect, the market is depressing itself.
I have been told that style is what is holding the antiques market back. People are allegedly more interested in both modern and contemporary furniture. That is partly true, but modern and contemporary furniture that qualifies as good, but not great, is still inexpensive and that is a huge factor to young buyers. The supporting cast of English furniture needs to be a lot less expensive in order to compete. It is happening, but very slowly.
At the other end of the spectrum is contemporary art, a field that I find completely baffling. I could care less how people spend their money, but I have to wonder just how easy it is to write a large check for something whose value is, at best, a question. It is almost as if the tech investment frenzy that is currently happening is feeding the contemporary art world. Common sense and rationality have been checked at the door. The thought process is quite obviously over rated in this world.
The lack of understanding that I have is not at all unusual. My father would have looked at my profession askance. He saw value in money and he saw it in people, the rest, as far as he was concerned, was window dressing. He may be right after all, but it is curious how we choose to understand our world and that is overtly expressed in how we spend our money. Think about it this the next time you make a large purchase. It tells you something about yourself that you may not even recognize. Aloha 2014!