Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanks for the response!

It's been a while since our last post (sorry!), but in the mean time, we have received such tremendous response to our recent column. A bit bleak, to be sure, but we think a much needed reality check.

Yes, it's true that there are some dealers and auctioneers out there trying to make some changes and do things differently, however, it's a long, steep, uphill climb to get new faces at shows and auctions. That is precisely why we need an industry-wide image makeover. We need to get rid of the gameshow image of the Antiques Roadshow and the gotta-make-a-buck image of American pickers. We need to convince non-collectors that you don't have to turn your house into a museum to enjoy antiques. We need to get rid of snobbishness masquerading as connoisseurship.

Perhaps we need to simply drop the words "antiques" and "collector" from our lexicon. What about "historic furnishings"? What about "enthusiast"? Surely there are terms we can use that are less antiquated and less fussy. Any thoughts??

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The future of collecting (or NOT collecting)

You'll see in our upcoming column that we are not confident in the future of collecting. Well, there will always be collectors, and they will always be an integral and crucial part of the marketplace. And there will be large numbers of collectors again...someday, just not in the immediate future. So, where does that leave the next generation of the marketplace? We need to focus on the users, the decorators, the folks who might just buy one or two antiques, or who might even fill up their entire house, but not as collectors, but as folks who just want to decorate with antiques.

The new Magazine Antiques just landed in our mailbox and it was great to see editor-in-chief Elizabeth Pochoda agree. "I'm not sure that collecting per se is the right focus for the campaign," she says in her discussion of a new trade organization that is forming. She further suggests that going after collectors might not be the best use of our resources, but "it is...possible that numbers of people will simply consider furnishing their lives with something old if they see it in a new light."

That's our make the wider public see this stuff in a new light. Antiques are green, they are good value, they are timeless design, they are so many things. Let's move away from focusing on collecting them and refocus on simply living with them. That, folks, is the future of this marketplace.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's just as good...

I (Andrew) love Halloween. It's always been my favorite holiday. As an adult, it's because it's the epitome of fall--cool and colorful, and well, I also love horror flicks. As a kid, of course, it was the costumes. My mother was a real "Martha" when it came to Halloween costumes. Sure, I went as a vampire several years, but one year I also went as an octopus. Mom made me a costume that consisted of a hood/mask and eight stuffed and sewn arms. It was fabulous.

In 5th grade, I went as "The Generic Kid." White pants labeled "PANTS", white shirt labeled "SHIRT", well, you get the idea. See, I grew up in middle-class suburbia, so generic products (complete with white labels and plain black lettering: "GREEN BEANS") were a staple of life. We complained. We wanted Del Monte vegetables and Nike shoes. "No," my mother would say, "These are cheaper and they are just as good." In my whitebread world, my costume needed no explanation. In fact, it was the hit of the party.

Where am I going with this? Recently, we got an email from a faithful reader (thanks for reading!) who does not see a new generation of collectors (and, frankly, we're not sure we do sure to read our next column). This reader suggests that the unique-ness of antiques confounds younger folks, and he may be right. We grew up in a big-box environment, where everything is the same. One TV is just as good as the next. So now, why would a 30-something think of anyplace other than a big-box store to purchase generic furnishings for their cookie-cutter house? Even if you are choosing between the $399 sofa and the $699 sofa, they both often look exactly the same. Not so with antiques, so many choices, so much variety, it jars the senses of those who are used to mass-produced, plain vanilla mediocrity. In the world of antiques, everything is different and nothing is "just as good."

How do we overcome this? Perhaps we need to completely overhaul our business model. In a recent opinion column in The New England Antiques Journal, John Fiske suggested looking to mainstream retailers and their sales and advertised discounts. It may feel weird to us in the trade who are use to bidding and haggling, but if we want new buyers, we may need to create an environment in which today’s retail buyers are comfortable. You might not like the idea, but having a “Everything 25% Off” banner in your booth might just draw in a few more buyers. It's worth a shot, isn't it?

(I do, take issue, dear reader, with your comment that all young people are all "cheapskates." We are not cheapskates, we are simply in debt. The average college graduate in 2010 begins their adult life with over $20,000 in student loan debt. I just paid off my undergraduate education this past summer...14 years after I graduated. Now, it's on to my grad school loans.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Yet another show about the antiques market

Anyone catch the premier of Auctioneer$ on TLC last night? Ack! It was terrible! I won't go into a full-on rant, but the bottom line is that it is yet another show that does not accurately reflect the antiques market. Seriously, what auctioneer is going to recommend spending $250 to repair a $650 object? And what auctioneer has the time to "test" to make sure everything they sell works? And in no way would any responsible auctioneer actually give any credence to a certificate of authenticity that looks like it was printed up on an HP DeskJet. Don't get me wrong, I think it's super-fabulous that such shows are getting regular Joe and Jane Sixpacks out there interested in antiques, but I am beyond concerned with how they are doing it.

Sidenote: the Lincoln brought over $1000 when these yahoos sold it, and that's the high end for that thing. But rare? Nope...check eBay, there are a handful there right now. I've seen many of these, often framed the exact same way, and typically carrying impressive provenance, including the great collector Malcolm Forbes, and all the way back to a Caroline Wright who died in the 19th century. I think what has happened is that someone bought THIS LOT at the Malcolm Forbes sale at Christie's in 2002. Based on the price, I suspect the buyers didn't think much of the authenticity. And then, someone later, for some unknown reason, split up the locks and framed them in groups of several strands and sold them off. They may have made good money, but now tell me, how do I know that the hair that just sold on Auctioneer$ is actually from that group? Once it's left the annotated envelope, how can you be sure? (BTW, the image above is of another frame of Lincoln hair..this one sold at Alexander Autographs early this year for less than $400.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Did you know that new babies are a lot of work? What use to be the 5:00 am blog posting has now become the 5:00 am feeding and/or diaper change. But, we're getting back on track...

In Garth's recent Americana auction, this sideboard brought pretty good money. Okay, well, $4,700 may not be what some folks would call a good price, but in today's market, especially for an object related to formal dining (most such objects have taken a serious dive since formal dining is not happening much at home anymore), it's a very good price.

Why did this piece of "brown wood" sell for more than its estimate? Because of the creative vision of one of the bidders. In their mind, this wasn't a sideboard, but a perfect surface on which to put their new 60" flatscreen tv.

TiVo, DVD players, etc. will fit nicely behind the center doors, and there is plenty of media storage space. I was so pleased to help this bidder envision this sideboard in her family room. It's repurposing at its finest. And it's something we are already doing at our house--a pie safe serves as the entertainment center, a step-back cupboard base is the perfect size and height for a changing table for Baby Nora, and there is no better coffee table in the world than an antique blanket chest.

Auctioneers and dealers need to start thinking like this, and presenting the objects they sell in a manner that is more relevant to today's lifestyles. Fewer folks, especially younger folks, are buying "art" and thus won't plunk down big bucks for a candlestand that serves no function purpose (seriously, is there any less practical piece of furniture?), but everyone needs to store their underwear and everyone needs a place to put their electronics. It's a new market, it's time we all get a new vision.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another rant...sorry.

Perhaps it's because I first saw the ad in the middle of the night (new baby Nora is a nightowl) and I was grumpy, but a recent commercial for Ikea really annoyed me (at least as much as the recent Restoration Hardware catalog). The commercial showed a number of rooms decorated in the Ikea style (which includes many crappy knock-offs styled after antiques) and the tagline at the end: Ikea--Life Improvement Store.

What about Ikea improves anyone's life? Okay, so it's cheap and convenient and in some small way that may be a modest improvement over 1970s paisley furniture from Goodwill. But let's really think about how a chair or a sofa from Ikea improves your life. Firstly, it's cheaply made using eco-irresponsible materials. True, that may not impact you right now, but let's face it, it will eventually. Secondly, you have to assemble it. If you have ever assembled any piece of mass-produced furniture, you already know that this process will NOT improve anything about your life (in fact, it'll ruin your weekend, most likely). Thirdly, once you bought it, it's monetary value is precisely zilch. Have you ever seen Ikea furniture at a garage sale? A quick search on Columbus, Ohio's Craig's List found a couple hundred Ikea objects for sale, mostly at a teeny tiny fraction of their original price. Of course, the reality is, your Ikea purchase won't last long enough to make it to a garage sale, unless you're planning one for next weekend. The stuff is so cheap that as soon as you assemble your new chair, you should probably immediately start planning on replacing it.

Am I being harsh? You betcha. We in the antiques industry need to set our sights on the likes of Ikea...they are the ones attracting potential young collectors (or simply young folks interested in classic style). We simply have to talk louder and in one voice about antiques in terms of their green-ness, quality, style, retained value, etc. etc. If we don't start acting boldly and immediately, we are in trouble.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The newest young collector

Arrived last evening. Baby Nora and her mother are both perfect and healthy. Her father is. just. wow.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The real competition

Recently, I've been having a riveting, albeit blood pressure-raising, conversation with an Indiana friend in the trade. He received the newest Pottery Barn catalog where they are hawking bad reproductions of 19th-century printer's chests and other things very clearly based on antiques. It's almost like they look through auction catalogs or go to shows to get inspired, and then send the plans to China to cheaply manufacture knock-offs.

And then the new Restoration Hardware catalog landed in both of our mailboxes. Hoo-boy...have you all seen this? Gary Friedman, the CEO, states, "No longer mere 'retailers' of home furnishings, we are 'curators' of the best historical design the world has to offer."

Um..excuse me? Seriously? I don't know what's more offensive, the fact that he described himself as a curator or that he claimed to have stuff that's better designed than the originals that his company has so poorly imitated.

I'm terribly sorry to inform you, Mr. Friedman, but if you want to find the curators of the best historical design, you need to look at places like Winterthur, the Met, and the MFA-Boston, as well as at antique auctions and shows around the country. Additionally, your customers would be better served by going to auctions, shows, and flea markets, where they will find better design AND better quality, all for a better price and in objects that will be worth something in 10 years.

Folks, you want to know where the (potential) young collectors are? They are at Pottery Barn, Target, Ikea, and they are shopping via catalogs like Restoration Hardware. They may not be as interested in history or art as you are or we are, but they are interested in style, quality, and price...and they aren't finding the best at those places, although they think they are. We need to get their attention and draw it to our business. So next time you see a Pottery Barn catalog on the coffee table of a friend or relative, surreptitiously swap it with an auction catalog or a copy of Maine Antique Digest, The Magazine Antiques or Antiques and Fine Art.

(And to my museum friends, you need to raise a stink with American Association of Museums...they need to protect the title "curator" the way that the American Library Association protects the title "librarian.")

Saturday, August 21, 2010

We've got a "problem"

That chest of drawers has problems.

The chair is period, but is problematic.

Most of the stuff in that guy's collection has major problems.

Does this sound familiar? We hear comments like these all around the marketplace: at shows, at auctions, everywhere. What, exactly, are "problems" in the context of antiques? Generally speaking, condition issues and/or restoration. What we want to know is why something that is present in the vast majority of authentic antiques is a problem. If a 200-year-old blanket chest survives to today in totally original condition, without a bit of damage or repair, then it's a miracle and the price typically reflects this. But if it has a replaced back foot, all of a sudden it's "problematic." Why is this?

It seems to us that an authentic antique, even if it has significant restoration, is a good thing. So why do we condemn a restored object with a word like "problem?" Doesn't this make most antiques undesirable? After all, who wants to own a problem? (We do, of course, believe that fake or fraudulent objects, or those that have been "dressed up" or restored in a deceptive way can be problems, unless they are bought and sold as exactly what they are.)

It's only a word, yes, and in 21st-century America, we often get overly sensitive about words. But we're not talking about a misguided attempt to be politically correct, and we certainly aren't suggesting that we should start saying "the P-word." We are, however, saying that by using overly negative words to describe perfectly authentic antiques, we are demeaning them. We are not creating an environment in which these wonderful objects-objects that have lived lives and been used and even loved-are desirable. And aren't we, as auctioneers and dealers, suppose to be creating a desire to own these things?

What do you think?

Friday, August 13, 2010

We're back...sort of...

Wow. The past 6 weeks have been a real roller coaster. Lots of travel (west and south), a death in the family, and 2 auctions. And, of course, there is the ongoing preparations for the arrival of the newest young collector, who is due any day now. So, as we wait and then adjust to our fabulous new life, our appearance here may be a bit irregular. Check back regularly, read our columns (the next two will be based on our trip to the New Orleans Antiques Forum), and be sure to pass around The Top Ten Reasons to Buy Antiques (links to the pdf are below and under our Fav Links).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Buy Antiques

As promised in our recent column in MAD, here is a free .pdf copy of our Top Ten Reasons to Buy Antiques. Feel free to email it, print it, pass it around, post it on shop windows or utility poles, link to it, whatever (just please do not change it).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sorry folks...

that we've been absent. It's been a crazy few weeks (good and bad), but we'll be getting back to normal soon....

Monday, June 21, 2010

The rebound

It seems that the market has turned a corner. Over the past several months, we've noticed an uptick in the number of folks at auctions and shows, but more importantly, there seems to be more bidding and buying going on...and the bidding and buying feels less hesitant, even enthusiastic. There are still occasional soft spots, to be sure, but overall, folks seem excited to be buying antiques again.

That, of course, does not mean that we're anywhere close to the market of the 1990s. By now, we all know that was a bubble and the bubble has burst. It may take a long while for prices to get back to those levels, if they ever do (unless driven there by inflation). And even if they do, trends are changing. Furniture, particularly "brown furniture", even if very good, can still be a little hit-or-miss at auction, but "smalls" are still doing well. This is most likely because veteran collectors can always find room for another redware plate or another folk-carved bird, but one can only have so many corner cupboards.

Are you noticing this resurgence where you are??

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some interesting events coming up in the next 12 months

One of the best parts of collecting, in our minds anyway, is learning. And some of the best places to learn are at museums and conferences. With that in mind, here is a short list of some upcoming events that might be of interest:

Early August: New Orleans Antiques Forum, sponsored by The Historic New Orleans Collection. This year, learn about Creole and Acadian furniture.

February: Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum. In its 63rd year. The 2011 topic: decorative arts forensics...the nuts and bolts of researching this stuff.

March: Winterthur Furniture Forum. This year, it'll highlight the arts and crafts of southeastern Pennsylvania to coincide with a major exhibition and catalog by curators Wendy Cooper and Lisa Minardi.

January-June: exhibition of early Ohio decorative arts at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. Everything from furniture to glass to samplers from 1788-1860. Check DACO's website for details as they become available.

May: Conference on Midwestern decorative arts (still in development...stay tuned for details).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

When did it become all about money??

We've talked about this before, but we are continually confronted with the issue, so we thought it worth putting out there for discussion: at what point did the antiques that people have hunted, loved, and lived with turn into mere dollar signs? More and more, we are talking to folks who tell wonderful stories of their decades of collecting, of getting to the flea market at 4:00 am and finding that great treasure, or nabbing an overlooked gem at auction. But now that it's time to sell their collections, they become rigidly fixated on money. No one ever told them that the antiques they purchased would be worth anything down the road, and back in the day, they wouldn't have cared...they just loved the stuff and wanted to take it home. Now, however, they are convinced that every antique they purchased should be worth at least what they paid for it, and they sometimes get visibly upset if you point out that the market has changed and this object or that object is less desirable, and therefore less valuable, than it was in 1980.

It almost feels like a betrayal. It's like the hippie who spent the 1960s attending anti-war protests and then shows up to his 30-year high reunion having become a corporate lawyer who doesn't know how to recycle. What happened? When did these antiques that you proclaimed your love for become mere commodities? At what point did your passion for history and art turn into a stubborn desire to squeeze every last penny out of your collection? And with that attitude becoming more and more prevalent, are we really surprised that younger folks aren't developing a love for antiques, a passion for living with historical objects??

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's auction week.

It's auction week at Garth's, Saturday being our annual Memorial Day auction, part of which (for four years now) has been devoted to objects from the Ohio River Valley.

Today also happens to be our monthly walk-in appraisal day. Between the two events, it's a great time to "people watch" in the marketplace. The saleroom is full of dealers and collectors of all kinds....trophy hunters, price buyers (folks who go after things if they're cheap, sometimes disparagingly called "bottom feeders" but these folks sometimes walk away with a real gem that was merely overlooked), and serious students of material culture. We also get the previewers who like to ask a zillion questions, sometimes because they genuinely want the answers, and sometimes simply to show off their knowledge and/or stump you.

And then there are the folks who bring their treasures to be evaluated by our appraisers. You never know what is going to walk through the door...we look at LOTS of handpainted china that is "real old and valuable" (according to grandma), but we also see some very interesting stuff (like a 17th century Tibetan bronze buddha). Yep, every month there is one person who KNOWS what their object is and when we disagree, they KNOW that they are right and we are wrong. But for the most part, we get nice folks who just want to know what something is.

The record price for an object brought in during our monthly appraisal day is just over $43,000 (the aforementioned buddha). It's only a matter of time before something eclipses that....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Seeing things differently...

So a few weeks ago, I helped one of Garth's clients load up a piece of furniture that they had purchased in our March Americana auction. Here it is:

Not terribly impressive, right? It's only half a corner cupboard, is missing bits of molding, and has been badly refinished.

Well, the buyers, Dave and Jeanne Kessler, owners of Sandusky Street Antiques in Delaware, Ohio, had a good reason for buying it. Jeanne explained that when Dave first saw the thing, he thought, "Boy, that's just about perfect for a corner stand for a flatscreen tv." So, they bought it (very reasonably), Dave'll fix it up, and someone will get a good deal on a stylish, eco-friendly tv stand that will have resale value.

That's exactly the attitude and the vision we need in this business. In years past, you could find a collector that would happily purchase nearly every antique out there. These days, collectors are fewer and pickier. They've been convinced that they shouldn't be buying anything that doesn't fall somewhere on the good-better-best spectrum. As a result, there are truckloads of useful, attractive antiques languishing in antique shops, their owners frustrated because no one will give them a second look.

The trick, as we've said before, is to target non-collectors...users, folks who just want to live with interesting furnishings or furnishings that offer good value and aren't made in Chinese sweatshops. Dave and Jeanne have figured this out and are out there looking for the overlooked antiques that just might find a useful spot in a modern home. That's smart. That's the kind of flexibility that has allowed them to remain successful these past few years. And you never know...they just might ignite an interest in someone and turn a mere user into a collector!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Texas - The Shows

The shows - holy smokes, where to start? As mentioned, you can see a partial list on the Round Top Chamber of Commerce website, but in reality, it seems like everyone with a field, a barn or even just a large front lawn had tents and tables set up. We got in late Monday night and left very early Friday morning, but in our three full days, we managed to hit seven shows.

We started Tuesday morning at Marburger Farm (it's a lovely 43-acre setting with a mix of fairground-like pavilions and shelters and a number of historic buildings from around the area that have been relocated). You can see a map here of the grounds and there are photos of some of the neat buildings on their event site here. There were more than 350 dealers there, and while we can't say how many people attended, we can tell you that this large, historically well-attended show still actually ran out of printed tickets after about a day and a half because so many people showed up! Bottom line: people were allowed in about an hour before selling started and there was a line and there was running. Can't tell you the last time we saw that!

Wednesday, we went over to the Big Red Barn, which is also known as the "original Round Top Antiques show". Again, barns and tents full of stuff, and again with the crowds! Our first walk through the show, we were just shuffling along in the center of an aisle jammed with people. You could barely make it to the entrance to a booth, let alone get in and have a look around. Fortunately, we also managed to connect with dealers Kim and Mary Kokles, Texans themselves, and they helped make some suggestions about shows and meals we'd want to make time for. After a Royers lunch in the tents outside, we made the rounds to shows at the Carmine (Carmine is at a separate location some distance away, but the admission to Big Red Barn get you in there as well) and La Bahia dance halls, and circled back to get another look at Marburger Farm.

After that, we drove by the marketplace at Warrenton, but weren't honestly brave enough to stop! It was a madhouse, tents set up in fields on either side of the road as far as the eye could see in just about any direction. After seeing it and fresh from visiting all the other shows, we found ourselves speculating about what percentage of the North American antiques market would be destroyed by an atomic bomb going off at the stoplight in downtown Round Top. So. Much. Stuff.

Thursday, we made stops at the Round Top Rifle Hall, Shelby and Cole's shows. The Cole's show is another large show - 200+ dealers in a 63,000-square-foot facility. And then back to Marburger Farm for the afternoon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Oglebay Show

Just back from a great weekend at Oglebay Park in Wheeling, West Virginia at the 56th annual Oglebay Antiques Show. They kindly invited us to offer a couple of talks: "Plugged In: Collecting in the Digital Age" and "Antiques are Green." Thanks to all those who attended!

As promised to those in the "Plugged In" talk, here are those links:
ArtFact: (price database and live auction interface)
LiveAuctioneers: (live auction interface)
AskArt: (price database for fine art)
Prices 4 Antiques: (price database for antiques, art and collectibles)

And for those who attended the "Green" talk, some asked about the 3/50 project:

And for those of you who took one of our cards, email either of us for your free p4A trial, free Garth's catalog (and/or to be added to our email list), or free trial subscription to Maine Antique Digest.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Texas - The Food

What would travel be without good food? Fortunately, there was plenty to choose from in Texas, which was a good thing, because with so much walking to do, we had to work hard at staying fortified and hydrated!

Many of the shows (and there are, just on the Round Top Chamber of Commerce website, more than 20 listed during the two-week period in spring) have their own concessions, so you'll get a variety of opinions on what's best. There's barbecue at Marburger Farm, but some will tell you that you should head down to Round Top for the Methodist Men's barbecue. Andrew was also very fond of his vegetarian tacos at Marburger, but as he pointed out, handmade fresh tortillas make everything taste great. And with a rich local German heritage, if barbecue's not your thing, you'll find great German and other local foods and desserts at the Carmine Dance Hall, La Bahia, and Shelby shows.

For dinner, we got as much local variety as we could with only three nights, having dinner one evening at the Stone Cellar in Bybee Square, where you can get good pizza, wine and beer, and making the trip over to Brenham by the scenic route one night for some excellent and affordable Italian (in a great repurposing of an old house) at Volare.

But if you go to Round Top, you'll likely be told that Royers Round Top Cafe is a local must with a restaurant right in the center of downtown. We had dinner there on our first night with some lovely folks - out in the evening air, perched on hay bales, as the crowd worked their way through stir-fried vegetable pasta dishes, marinated pork and quail, and shrimp BLT sandwiches (see the photo, courtesy of our hose, Rick McConn of the Marburger Farms Show). Royers offers concessions at a number of the antiques shows, including the Big Red Barn show, during the day as well, so it's a great opportunity to have a little taste before committing for a full dinner. The real reason to go to Royers, however, is their pie....

Texas - The Countryside

We're baaack! Last week was a whirlwind week in the Round Top, Texas area for the shows. "Shows," by the way, seems to be a huge understatement, but more on that in the next few posts. We saw and did so much in three days that we're splitting it up a bit: countryside, shows, food, and marketplace. You'll want to be on the lookout for the upcoming column, too, as we'll go into a bit more detail, but we took so many photos that we wanted to share a bit here.

Back in the fall, we got a kind invitation from Rick McConn, one of the new owners of the Marburger Farm show, to come to Texas and see what they're up to down there, as they've been working hard at drawing a new crowd. Having never been and knowing how many shows there were, how could we say no? So, Monday afternoon we headed south, and after a delay in Chicago, we landed about 8:30 local time. Picked up our rental car (ridiculously small - it's the white speck in the photo) and managed to find our way through the Texas dark, which, by the way, is really dark, to our cabin.

We can't tell you where we stayed. Well, we could, but we'd have to kill you. Apparently, accommodations are slim pickings during the show weeks, so a friend said we might want to keep that information to ourselves if we ever, ever, ever want to have a shot at staying there again. But it was a cute little place over a pond, as you can see, and we went to bed to the croaking of frogs and woke up to the bawling of cattle.

Texas in late summer may well be hell on earth, depending on who you ask, but if that's true, then Texas in spring is certainly heaven on earth. Fresh breezes blew steadily, the sun was always shining (although very gentle on our pasty winter-whiten Midwestern skin), and bluebonnets were everywhere. When you pair that with more antique shows and good food than you can shake a stick at, you shouldn't be asking yourself why would you go to Texas, but rather why would you not?

Check back for more on food, shows, and a general perspective on the marketplace in the next few days....

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Busy, busy, busy...

I (Andrew) apologize. We have been rather reticent here for the past few weeks. It's been, well, rather hectic. Auctions, deadlines, and lots of trips out of town have kept us going and, frankly, neglecting other things. (Evidence of our travels: Hollie and I in front of the White House during a brief stop in Washington last week.)

Our most recent trip was, in some sense, like going home. Last week was the annual Furniture Forum at the Winterthur Museum (where I earned my master's degree). This year's theme was "Nature in Furniture, Furniture in Nature." Day one consisted of lectures on the use of naturalistic motifs (plants, flowers, animals, etc.) in the decoration of early American furniture. Day two complimented day one by including lectures about the use of furniture in nature; that is, garden furniture and furniture that was often moved outside for temporary use (like Windsor chairs). Robert Mussey, Brock Jobe, Wendy Cooper, Nancy Goyne Evans, Alexandra Kirtley were among the speakers, and as always, it was tremendously informative.

I was very disappointed in one aspect, however: attendance. In years past, the Forum often sold out (sometimes selling out fast, making it crucial to register early) and the auditorium was packed with over 500 attendees. This year, I only counted about 130. Sure, the economy is partly to blame...less money for extracurricular travel. And this year, the conference did not correspond to any shows (last year, it was just before the Philly shows, and in years previous, it was the same week as the Chester County Show). But I should also note that attendance at the Williamsburg Antiques Forum in February was also way down.

I think the biggest problem is the same thing we're seeing at auctions and shows: the regular attendees are aging and dying off and there is not a large number of younger folks filling those spots. Museums are struggling just as much with attracting the interest (and the admissions fees) of 20- and 30-somethings. So it seems that we in the trade should really think about reaching out to our institutional counterparts and see if we can't work together to attract new blood.

How can we do this? The first step the trade can make is to become members of local museums and attend conferences like Furniture Forum. I am routinely amazed at how few dealers and auctioneers I see at these conferences. I realize that with my academic background and my continued scholarly activities, I have more impetus to attend conferences, but wouldn't any dealer or auctioneer benefit from attendance? We're talking about listening to some of the most cutting edge research from the best scholars in the world. If a dealer or auctioneer expects to be seen as an authority among collectors, shouldn't every one of these conferences be chockablock full of dealers and auctioneers? Then why am I usually one of the very few members of the trade in attendance?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recent letter in MAD

A letter in the most recent edition of Maine Antique Digest suggested that we failed to properly cite Robert Fulghum's 1986 classic, All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. We very much appreciate the fact that Mr. Douglas reads our column, however, please note that in paragraph two of our column, we do mention Fulghum by name and refer, perhaps indirectly, to his book.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Another victim of the economy...

If you have lived in Ohio, then you may be familiar with Norka Futons. The firm started in Akron (write the letters N-O-R-K-A backwards) and then spread to Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, they have closed their doors. Turns out they can no longer provide their customers with the quality futons they have been selling, so it was either start selling cheap Chinese imports or close up.

What made Norka futons so good, and what does this have to do with antiques?

Norka futons were quality, made of solid wood, made in America (Pennsylvania to be exact) and they were made and sold by an American small business. The ONLY piece of new furniture we have in our house is a Norka futon.

Well, folks...know what? Antiques are quality. Antique furniture is made of solid wood (no such thing as 18th-century particle board). And if you want American-style furniture, 99% of antique, American-style furniture was made in America. And finally, 99.9% of all antiques can only be purchased at locally owned, small businesses. And what antiques have that even a Norka futon doesn't is resale value.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nashville United

As I mentioned in our last post, Nashville in February is much better with all three shows in the same weekend. Help us send the message! Click here to read and sign the Nashville United petition.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A brief break from travel

February was spent mostly on the road, it seems. Eight days in Virginia and vicinity with pickups visits and, of course, Antiques Forum at Williamsburg. Then home for 3 days and a trip to Nashville for Heart of Country. We hosted a VIP evening and led some tours of the show. It was a good time, though we need to work to get young folks there next year.

Nashville isn't what it use to be. The three shows (Heart, Tailgate, and Music Valley) are now separated by a week (or more) and several miles. We couldn't get to the Jenkins shows, unfortunately, since they conflicted with Williamsburg, but word is that the shows were strong with good selling. Heart is a much smaller show these days, but with more geographic diversity than before (dealers and stuff from farther west, which is great), but it was still a good show. We saw lots of red stickers, even on some higher-priced items. We continue to be buoyed by shows and auctions...the market seems to be back on an upswing.

That being said, I (Andrew) am really starting to think that this market, if it really wants to become attractive to younger folks, needs to really shake things up. As an industry, we've been on cruise control for some time. We continue to provide the obligatory young collector events and we continue to pay lip service to being green and affordable, but I have yet to see anyone really embrace some of these youth-friendly concepts and really put them out there (and I don't mean just in the trade, but in the non-antiques world.

Anyone out there seeing an antiques business doing things differently?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Back from Williamsburg...

Antiques Forum at Williamsburg is always a much-needed week in the midst of winter. Granted, this year, there was almost as much snow in Williamsburg as there is here in Ohio, but still...

Great lectures, including Janine Skerry talking about stoneware, Barbara Luck talking about folk portraiture, and a wonderful talk about the mahogany trade in the 18th century. It's always a great chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. And maybe Williamsburg is a bit "Disney" but we still love it. No better way to finish a day than enjoying a good meal in a tavern while listening to a Scottish fiddler!

Next week...Heart of Country in Nashville. We'll be hosting a reception prior to the preview party on Thursday night. If you're there, look us up!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Big Dance Part 2

So, we only made it to 3 shows. Just didn't have time for Antiques at the Armory or the Pier Show...just too darn much to do in NY for 4 days.

We started at The American Antique Show (aka, the TAAS Show or the Folk Art Show), which is always a good one. Strong country and folk, but not exorbitant prices. Great burl from Steve Powers, interesting tramp art from Cliff Wallach, and an exciting seed chest from Hill Gallery (to look at this seed chest, you'd think Soap Hollow, but it's northern Indiana). There were a healthy amount of red stickers, and even Martha Stewart was there.

The Winter Show (the BIG show) is always a treat to attend, though it had a much different flavor this year. In years past, Leigh Keno and Sumpter Priddy have flanked the show's entrance, but both have retired from this show. This year, you could buy anything from 17th century armor to an Egyptian sarcophagus to an American Indian pot to a Stickley chair. Great variety, great objects, very high prices (read: not quite as many red stickers).

My favorite show continues to be the Ceramics Fair, which is funny since we aren't ceramics collectors. However, I just find that a focused show like that provides the best opportunity to learn. And it's always good to see what treasures the Stradlings and Ian Simmonds have brought. The MESDA exhibit there included the cute, little NC turtle flask they just purchased, as well as another couple dozen animal-form Moravian flasks. Plenty of red stickers were seen there as well.

If you've not been to Americana Week, you should go at least once. It's a great opportunity to see some great objects, and the sales and shows are often a good barometer of the market and can set the tone for the coming year. Based on last week, I think 2010 is going to be a good year.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Big Dance Part 1

Andrew here, just having returned from Americana Week in New York. Four days that included previewing four auctions, attending two, and going to three big shows. So how'd it go?

At Christie's, the offerings were a bit sparse, but some quality stuff. Best thing was that the estimates were notably conservative. Unfortunately, the sale felt a bit off...a number of passes and objects selling below estimate. A notable exception was the wonderful double portrait by Ammi Phillips (pictured here) that exceeded its estimate, selling for just about three-quarters of a million dollars. As one might have expected, the Skull and Bones ballot box, made from a real skull, was withdrawn, and is probably already back in New Haven by now.

At Sotheby's, a stronger offering with more variety (including more and better silver and the Elinor Gordon collection of Chinese export porcelain). The sale proved a good one, including a mind-blowing new world record for a piece of American silver that brought nearly $6 million.

I also previewed the Bonham's and the Keno sales, which included some good Americana and marine art...we'll have to wait to see the results.

My thoughts on the auctions? It's tough to get the top-shelf consignments in this economy. Many collectors are holding on to their treasures in the hopes that the market will return to pre-recession levels. I don't know that the market will get back there anytime soon, and even if prices to get back in that general ballpark, I am not sure that the market can absorb all that will be thrown at it without some prices suffering. But I suppose we'll find out over the coming years.

Up next time--the shows....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fun things we've encounted...just by looking.

In our upcoming column, we talk about how important it is to just look and pay attention. If you spend any time in an antiques shop, show, or auction, and you're paying attention, you will find all kinds of nifty things. And it's this sense of wonder that makes this business so much fun.

So, without further are some of our favorite curiosities:

1. Andrew Clemens sand bottles. If you haven't heard of Andrew Clemens, then Google him. He was a deaf-mute in late 19th-century Iowa that created phenomenal pictures from colored sand. Look closely folks...these things were created grain by grain, with NO glue.

2. The Pugilistic Sheep of Ferdinand Brader. Brader was a German immigrant who roamed the Ohio and Pennsylvania countryside drawing "portraits" of farms. Immensely detailed and oh-so-charming. And if you look closely (really closely in this example, in the upper right corner), you'll find a couple of sheep, up on their hind legs, duking it out.

3. Mouseman furniture. A quirky British furniture maker who included a teeny tiny mouse carved on his work. Can you find it here?

What have you found just by looking? What nifty things have your sharp and observant eyes discovered?

We need to inject this kind of whimsy and fun back into this business. Let's move past the dollars and cents and just have some fun.

After all, collecting is suppose to be a hobby.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Some sad news...

If you've bought or sold at Garth's in the past 4o years, then you probably know Tom Porter. Sadly, Tom passed away this past weekend after a brief battle with cancer. Tom was a bright light in the antiques industry for decades...he will be missed.

A Must-See in New England

A while back, early October to be exact, we visited a friend who is curator at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont. Like most, you probably think of pottery when you think of Bennington...bird-decorated stoneware by Norton, or flint enamel glazes on molded pitchers and the like. And if these things are what floats your boat, then you'll have a ball at the Bennington Museum. But there is also a stellar collection of regional furniture and art (including the most phenomenal triptych portraits by Ralph Earl). Of course, you'll also see the famed Bennington Flag (do a Google search and you'll know what we're talking about) and some other historical objects. Add to that the largest collection of Grandma Moses works and you have one heck of a museum.

But wait...there's won't just see a bunch of static galleries filled with dusty artifacts. Along with rotating galleries (that regularly host traveling exhibits), the permanent galleries offer an interactive experience with an audio tour available via cell phone - you call the number on the label and, presto, there's a voice discussing the work upon which you are gazing. Our favorite part is that they're integrating this audio tour with projects at the local high school - what a great way to get kids involved in art and history and get them interested in connecting with a museum!

Plan on spending the entire day if you really want to take it all in. For more information: