What has happened to our antique market?
A well established, long time antique shop in Massachusetts, that appears to be going the way of the dinosaur.
In a recent letter to patrons, The Cobbs, a Peterborough, NH mainstay in New England antique sales, lamented to their clientele about the "weakening" of the "mid range antique market, particularly furniture." They see it not only as an aging participant problem, but a "cultural and societal" issue as well.
I spend much time reading New England Antiques Journal, Maine Antique Digest and others too, in search of knowledge and information. All of these respected, knowledgeable organizations are writing of the demise of our beloved early American antique market. There is nothing new in this folks; markets come and markets go, tastes change and people evolve. Once healthy "buggy whip" factories, the "type writer" industry and "stagecoach" market, employers of vast numbers of citizens, no longer exist; hopefully the entrepreneurs who ushered in these innovations adapted and survived.
Let me interject here that I love antiques, have collected for years, have recently become a dealer and short-sightedly thought that this market would endure forever. Well, maybe not "forever." After all, we're talking about American History. Forget all the rhetoric about a lousy economic climate, we've endured those before, although not to this extent within my lifetime, but what is relevant is that those who collect such items are quickly becoming a political minority. Those who are becoming the majority, apparently have little or no interest in the items that I hold dear. Then it simply becomes a matter of supply and demand. The supply is still here but the demand is not and according to "Economics 101," prices will plummet. And they have. It's provided me with excellent purchasing opportunities, but very poor selling prospects.
As a collector and dealer reality has hit me square between the eyes. My 18th century, maple highboy, ladder back arm chair or antique Persian rug just doesn't hold the same appeal to today's 40 year-olds who listen to rap music, yearn for a shiny new Porsche, shop at Pottery Barn and show up for an international flight in their best sweat pants with the word PINK written across their bottom and their earbuds in place. Is this wrong? No. I may not like it, but it's now the market in which I find myself. Either I adjust or I go out of business. The same decision the buggy whip, typewriter and stagecoach manufacturer had to make many years ago.
How will we, antique dealers that is, react? Will we continue to defy logic and try to sell items that few seem interested in purchasing? Will we change our business model and hawk products more suited to a contemporary market? Will we hunker down and hope for better times or will we try to educate others to think as we do and share our values? These, as I see it are our choices. Now... which path to follow.