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The Future of Antiques Collecting
by Bob Brooke


Ever since the dawn of the 20th century, antique collecting has been in the realm of the wealthy. For a while in the 1960s through the end of the century, it seemed that the market had opened up to a wider audience. Lots of items came on the market through garage sales and flea markets, as well as used furniture stores. In fact, that’s when I began collecting antiques.

These items were affordable and offered lots of variety for collectors. Most of them were from the 1880s through the 1940s. Retro hadn’t appeared as a trend as yet, so most collectors didn’t bother with objects from the 1950s and 1960s. But people generally had developed a tajjjjjjjbste for the past thanks to home decorating magazines like American Home.

By the dawn of the 21st century, many Victorian pieces had been gobbled up by these new collectors. High-end antique dealers and their rich clients looked down their noses at most Victorian antiques, sticking to the notion established by the U.S. Congress in 1930 that an antique had to be 100 years old. At that time, that period coincided with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the turning away from handcrafted furniture and accessories. To some extent, many high-end dealers and their wealthy clientele still look down on Victorian items, except perhaps those grand pieces produced by the Hurter Brothers of New York and other top makers.

Then something happened to change antiquing forever—the birth of the Internet. While that mystical birth actually happened a couple of decades before, it was the appearance of first eBay followed by other auction sites that turned antiquing into a bidding game. Prices began to climb, not because the items were worth more or because they were scarce but because ordinary people out-bid each other to buy them.

As prices slowly climbed, the average antique and collectibles collector couldn’t keep up. What they had purchased for modest amounts back in the 1970s and 1980s and even into the 1990s was now going for twice or three times as much.

At the same time, antique auctions began to attract a different clientele, one that owned large homes and had plenty of discretionary income to spend on furnishing them. When these newcomers saw something they wanted, they bid until they got it. Prices became so high that antique dealers couldn't afford to buy some of the better items. And they boosted the retail price of those they did buy so that they could make a profit.

Leap forward several decades and a large number of people, born between 1908 and 1938 are dying, leaving their antiques and collectibles to their children. The problem is that some of their children don’t want their antiques or collections they’ve amassed. So this will put a lot of items on the market that haven’t been there before or at least in a long while.

However, not only do the children of those who have died not want antiques, those younger than them don’t want them, either, which is putting the antiques trade in somewhat of a quandary.

According to a recent article in Kovel’s Antiques Newsletter, thousands of young people are collecting tiny toys made of plastic that come in sets. Shopkins, for example, are tiny grocery store items that started the craze in 2014. Others include tiny sports figures called TeenyMates and others based on Disney characters called Tsum Tsums. Sold in sets and often in what’s called a “blind box” that hides what’s inside. Young collectors can play with, sort, and trade their collectibles with other kids. Kovels believes that these kids will graduate to historic and decorative antiques and collectibles when they get older. While some may do so, I don’t believe that will happen. Sure, they’ll still collect things, but more likely it will be fan-based items and pop culture icons.

It’s going to be a new world for antiques collecting—one that will be vastly different than the one people collect in today

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