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.


Author said...

I have felt this for many years as I listened to client needs, particularly of the design trade and self-home decorator. In interest of clinging to 'the past' we fell out of touch with what client's real needs were, and most importantly, where excellent marketing was taking them - away from earlier forms.

While a number of factors have literally been pushing remaining buyers into the auction venue as the preferred buying venue for antiques, the trade overall was falling behind on working towards keeping antique forms desirable overly newly made ones. In particular, contemporary art and other modern forms have garnered a now predominant market share.

Determining audience, how we merchandise, the values we promote and most importantly, pricing on the retail level will be key if we hope to compete in today's marketplace.

Each layer of the market requires its own approach based on its intended audience. The home decor market which mid-range antiques competes within is a highly sophisticated one. A visit to any design center in a major city is truly an eye-opening experience and might be the first step for anyone who is seriously interested in turning around the industry.

It will be an uphill battle at this point to catch up to contemporary art/contemporary forms which have been beautifully promoted over the last decade, and pricing will likely be a large factor within the middle market as the economy has greatly affected the middle class over the last decade.

One great positive is the growing resistance to trend following. If we can tap into this effectively, we may entice people to utilize antiques more, but they will be used and appreciated within a more modern context. Several dealers which utilize this concept well include dealers such as Obsolete in LA and Coup de Etat in San Francisco. Both of these dealers have created a strong identity within a newer context for antiques.

A recent quote from a home decorator.."I am not looking for antiques. I am looking for interesting things to live with". This is the changed environment we now function within.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, indeed, LIVING with antiques. And not that column in The Magazine Antiques that features mature people with mature collections, or young collectors with old bank accounts. How to really live with, decorate around, care for, and enjoy our treasured items.

It was great to see you at Delaware. All the best,


Ms. Mamma said...

Hi Hollie and Andrew- I'm a web designer for a very teensy antique shop in Wausau, WI. I also take care of their site updates and other creative elements. I was wonder if you might allow me to repost this blog post or your "Who we are" post. They are older, but I really want to address people under 50. I would definitely attribute and link to your blog or wherever you wish. It would appear on the "ask bob" page of

Thanks! Heidi

Hollie and Andrew said...

Interesting things to live with...I LOVE that.

Heidi, Absolutely, always happy to have our posts re-posted. Just please post a link back here..thanks!

Regina Kolbe said...

Light on the subject - many millions are looking for interesting things to live with. Just look at how they buy contemporary art. Re-thinking the sales model is key. Re-thinking the marketing strategy too.

Ms. Mamma said...

Thanks so much!

Lewis Baer said...

Hollie and Andrew,

I've just read your article in the December Maine Antiques Digest and you are right on target about "no young collectors are coming to save the maketplace". There are many levels why this is occuring, but it is my thought that the problem is a total lack of any industry focus on this challenge. Dealer organizations (or the lack of one) are the main culprit in failing to acknowledge and refocus the image of antiques to the broader public.

If antiques were promoted in a more contemporary living manner, like an iphone, their perception would not be as old fashion and out of date, but as iconic, timeless, and functional posessions.

Lewis Baer
Newel LLC

james conrad said...

Well, so much for the depression in antiques. I went after Ruth's 1716 box yesterday in Garths TG auction and was CRUSHED! It went for over 4 times its high estimate.

Anonymous said...

I read your column in the recent issue of mad. At first I thought that it was a grim outlook! The further I read the more I agree. My wife and I run a large single owner shop and business is good! It is challenging times but it is still possible to succeed as a full time dealer. My wife says we work all the time I say we never work because we like what we are doing. We had a dealer stop in the other day who said his wife and daughter loved our shop and told him he needed to check us out. I had to excuse myself after I greeted him at the door(I welcomed him to the shop, pointed out the bathroom location and where the complimentary refreshments were located,and told him that if he needed any assistance to just ask my wife or me and we would be happy to help) to help a customer load a small cupboard into the back of their suv. My wife said that the gentleman waited until she wrote up another customer and when that transaction was complete he said"that it appeared that we were doing business but he is more of a purist and has had a tough time lately because he only does the better shows and things have been slow. I checked out his web site and there were about a dozen items on the site about 6 shows listed and available by appointment. We have 12000sq ft shop with set hours, do about 8-12 shows and meet people off hours. We do layaway, deliver and buy back. We try to be everywhere all the time. Ps. The guy bored me I hope his wife and daughter come back. I think they will! Mike

Andrew Davis Photography said...

I agree that the new market needs to be about the value that antiques can offer, and how they can be functional pieces. My tiny condo is mostly furnished with antique furniture, all of it sturdy, most of it not all that valuable. My fiance still complains a bit about how antique furniture isn't functional, which I think is largely a problem of viewpoint.

I agree with the first comment about wanting interesting things to live with. I've photographed antiques for the past 4 years, so I know about original finish, replaced brasses, period vs. reproduction, but if something appeals to me, and if it's in my price range, I will usually buy it regardless of all that.

Hollie and Andrew said...

Andrew, your condo pictures always looked so cozy - I would have moved in right away if we were within commuting distance! And I share your collecting philosophy. "My" Andrew tends to be more academic in his tastes, but I like what I like regardless of age, materials, condition, etc. Makes for an interesting hodge-podge!

Anonymous said...

And dealers need an organization to upgrade their own image because?????

If a retailer cannot adopt to changing times/style/presentation/merchandising/pricing, in their own business they will lose their own audience.

No offense, but how 'academic' can one group continue to be and how much longer are they going to wait for the cavalry to save them?