The antique world has never bothered itself much with practicalities such as lifestyle, scale or dining habits but in recent years the subject of what people are now buying and why has become far more topical. In the mid February issue of Antiques Trade Gazette the lead article was devoted to this subject that is generating more and more interest. At the heart of the discussion is the trajectory of traditional furniture prices that have been well measured for the best part of almost half a century.
A 45 year old index out of London that measures 1400 items regularly appearing at auction and via dealerships has noted in some detail the performance of different woods, different size objects and different periods – the results are a fascinating and very succinct insight in to how lifestyle is changing buying habits. The three crucial observations the article makes are firstly that the market for antique furniture peaked in 2002, secondly that price declines have been more pronounced amongst the categories most associated with formal dining, being mahogany and the regency period and finally that very large and bulky items seem less in demand. So what to make of all this apart from the fact that we know houses have fewer walls, less display space and little formal dining design?
My overarching response would be that there do remain populations of collectors for all periods and materials but the challenge is finding that “collecting or decorating crowd” when one comes to selling. That is why it is important to ask your prospective selling agent how deep and how broad their marketing platform and client base is to be sure they have your collection covered. I would also suggest that it feels to me like prices have now flattened out and steadied for quality period furniture – I think it has been a slow freefall for two decades that is now largely at an end.
Finally, I agree with the sentiments of many an antique dealer and observer that pricing must pick up, if only gradually, when one compares the prices of reproduction equivalents that ooze none of the quality, history or aesthetics of a true period piece. As absurd as it might sound I keep waiting for a Hollywood movie star to unveil their new apartment, ranch or beachside residence with new interpretations of periods gone by created by some hot international interior designer. Why? Because it’ll probably take something like that for younger buying audiences to see just how much can be achieved with an eclectic rather than an “empty-white-room” sensibility!