Monday, June 29, 2009

Lightening the Load.

Maureen Winer's commentary in this week's Antique Week made a good point. She describes a friend who developed a "habit" of paying for and filling up storage units, costing him both time and aggravation. This is often called hoarding (see previous post on the Collyer brothers (February 2009)) and it's sadly all-too familiar among antiques collectors.

Over the past six years in this biz, we have been in a lot of houses. Many have been pleasantly full of antiques, but we've also seen many that can only be described as "packed, with paths." Rarely do we find a house that we would describe as "sparsely decorated." And what's so sad is that, as a general rule, the folks with the most stuff are the least likely to actually want to sell it. We'd like to say we know someone who regularly complains about not having any money, but is paying for at least five storage units that are filled with antiques, but in reality, we know a lot of someones with this problem! And when some of them do finally send a few things to auction, they often insist on high reserves on everything, many times getting it all back, even when there wasn't enough room for it to begin with. And let's not go into all the fees and expenses related to storing and (attempts at) selling that only increase the amount of money tied up in the something that they still haven't actually gotten rid of! So many of these folks consider themselves dealers, but we have to wonder if they have ever really sold anything. In actuality, they seem like their own best customers!

Based on what we've seen, it's pretty clear that a fairly small number of "collectors" and "dealers" have, over the past 30-40 years, done an enormous amount of buying, perhaps supporting a not-insignificant segment of the middle and lower end of the market all by themselves. Seems like every auction has a guy who'll bid on anything if it gets cheap enough, and we always wonder what this guy's house looks like. We can only imagine....

You want to help move the antiques marketplace along, perhaps help it start its climb out of this slump? Look around your house or shop, pick out 5-10 things, and send them to auction or sell them to a dealer from whom you have purchased over the years. Don't think about what you paid for these things...just sell them. Put them back out there and let them find a new home. You'll be doing a couple of good things. Firstly, as mentioned, you'll be helping the antiques marketplace. Secondly, you'll be lightening your own load. You have enough stuff - honestly, we all do. It might be painful at first, but just let these 5-10 things go. Wish them luck and say goodbye. After a few weeks without them in your home, see if you *really* miss them. You just might find the process of "load lightening" liberating.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Young folks DO like antiques!!

For you curmudgeons who don't think that the younger generation isn't interested in antiques or history, check this out:

We went to Connecticut last weekend for the wedding of a couple of very good friends. The wedding was in an historic barn at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield. So, in the midst of a complex of great 18th-century houses, these two 30ish folks got hitched. The needlework embroidery above is their chuppah (marriage canopy in a Jewish wedding), which they made themselves based on a tree of life embroidered picture (made by young Mary King of Philadelphia) at the Winterthur Museum.

Now pay attention...these are your potential young collectors. Why aren't they collecting now? Same as so many 20- and debt, tough job market, trying to save a few pennies to start a family or for the long term. We need to spend some serious energy reinvigorating the middle market, because for folks like these (and, frankly, us), that's our entry point into the wonderful world of collecting.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Get involved!

It's been a hectic couple of weeks for us. A friend's wedding in CT, plus several work trips for Andrew have largely kept us away from our digital lives. But we're back.

We just got word that Ohio's governor is proposing a ginormous cut to Ohio library budgets. It may result in as much as a 50% reduction in funding and for many of the state's nearly 300 public libraries, this could spell disaster. Reduced staff, reduced hours, or outright closure...just when library services are so desperately needed. This comes on the heels of the Ohio Historical Society's announcement that if local funding for some of its sites around the Buckeye State isn't obtained, they will be forced to shut those sites down at the end of the month. One of these sites is the Campus Martius of the first official settlement in the Northwest Territory, and the place where Andrew cut his teeth on decorative arts research.

We certainly don't want to step up on a political soapbox, and we know that the economy sucks and cuts need to be made....BUT libraries and museums form the foundation for our shared culture and heritage. Without these treasured institutions and their hardworking staff, much of what we collectors, dealers, and auctioneers know about the stuff we buy and sell would not be known. If we, as an industry, are serious about turning young folks on to antiques, then we need to do what we can to support the libraries and museums that get kids and young adults interested in history and in learning. Call your reps and senators, make a donation (of time or money), and, most of all, go and visit your local library, museum, or historical society. Tell them you appreciate what they do!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

More time on the road...

It's a busy time for us. Two auctions in the past three weeks at Garth's, and then this weekend, it was showtime...that is, the Fairhaven Antiques Festival in SW Ohio and the Heartland Show in Richmond, Indiana.

There has been much said about the Fairhaven Show in recent years, mainly about its decline. We were not around for its heyday back in the 1980s, but it's still a damn good show. Small, yes...maybe 50 dealers, but some great stuff. David Good, Sam Forsythe, Clifton Anderson, Steve Powers, Chuck White...when you get these folks together, you're going to see some great Americana. And there are less well-known dealers there with moderately priced objects, and even some folks peddling flea market stuff. There is something for everyone, and the setting is fabulous!

Heartland, though much larger, is similar...some great dealers with great stuff and some smaller dealers with good and varied stuff. We were able to document a couple more examples of Midwestern-German stencil-decorated furniture (, including a great blanket chest with birds.

We think that these types of shows, those with a wide range of offerings, are the best kind for the young collector. Let's face it, NY and Philadelphia are just too intimidating for young collectors. But these smaller shows are a great place for the novice to examine some great things and thus learn, but also go home with a nice thing that is affordable. Note, we said "nice thing" and "affordable". That's what it sounds like when when the middle market is NOT disparaged.