Discover Vintage America - SEPTEMBER 2018
What's selling in 2018? It depends on where you are
Here's an update on the Internet research on buying trends in antiques and collectibles that I did a couple of years ago for this column. I should first note that I found plenty of evidence that trends are not monolithic. Although the secondary market is experiencing a notable shift toward a more contemporary decorating style, I also found evidence of continuing interest in more "traditional" collecting categories - portraits, folk and outsider art, Asian arts, clocks, and textiles (blog.viyet.com, "The Antique Trends to Watch in 2018," Jan. 25, 2018).
Among the items my late father collected, this studded leather box with a peaked cover and a lion and fleur-de-lis design, origin and age unknown but certainly not "modern," is small enough to serve as an effective decorative accent even as contrast in a Modernist décor.
Everything old is new again?
Checking in with antiques and collectibles maven Terry Kovel on Kovels.com, we'll note the following popular categories in 2018, some of which also showed up on her previous list:
- Famous-name costume jewelry (e.g., Haskell and Trifari) and modern Mexican silver
- Modern studio pottery by smaller, lesser known potters
- Vintage purses and scarves by famous makers Chanel, Vuitton, Hermès, etc.)
- 1950s furniture in light/blond wood
- Space memorabilia
- Hot Wheels toys
- Mechanical and still banks
Still, there's change afoot in the secondary market – some of it away from traditional categories in antiques and toward modern acquisitions that are less "collectible" than they are designer accents for a pared-down décor. The addition of contemporary studio pottery to Kovel's list is an interesting example. A March 3, 2018 article in the New York Times titled "How Low Will Market for Antiques Actually Go?" documents a slide in 18th and 19th century antique sales as younger people set up housekeeping in open-design homes where the preference is for Modernist, high-end design in fewer pieces.
According to this Times article, even antique dealers who have long held the line against dealing in anything that isn't at least 100 years old are now "going Modernist." In an article titled, "2018-2019 Antique & Vintage Decor Trends," the goantiques.com web site puts it this way: "Less is more, and less must be the best."
The emerging trends suggest that younger "collectors" aren't really "collectors" at all in the traditional sense of amassing large inventories in tangible asset categories but instead, are springing for best examples of one or two items to decorate their uncluttered homes. But the research also assumes an upscale clientele, and I think we all know that many young people are struggling and certainly not splurging on the perfect open-concept home with a Modernist feel nor on a couple of pieces of high-end sculpture to grace it. In other words, what you get in research like this depends on whom you ask.
And that gets to my second caveat. Trends in New York may be – likely are –different from trends in Kansas or Missouri, and those trends will be driven not only by differences in disposable income but also by regional exposure to certain types of secondary market merchandise.
While I find the reported interest in studio potters fascinating, many 20th century American potteries in what we consider the "traditional" demand categories (Rookwood, McCoy, and so on) were started in the Midwest, which was their first and deepest retail market, and that probably gives the region a leg-up on secondary market availability.
Also, as the New York Times article notes, a trend is not a permanent shift; it is expected that the pendulum of popular taste will swing back – eventually – to more traditional antiques. But it probably won't be a rapid shift back – especially when it comes to furniture and other large-item categories where, currently, brown is out and blond is in. We dealers will need to pay attention to what's going on with consumers in our own local markets and try to adapt to that flow rather than resist it.