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.