New York - It wasn't that long ago that many naysayers of the early 21st century were sounding the death knell for the antique and collectibles trade - but a funny thing happened along the way to the market. While prices did indeed drop for some traditional antique styles such as "brown furniture" and Grandma's china, a whole new group of collectors and collectibles suddenly appeared to take their place. The transition, while not occurring overnight, nevertheless became clearly perceptible to dealers and buyers alike, as Mid-century modern, textiles, costume jewelry, vintage 60s, and 70s modular, quickly became mainstays of the new decorative arts age.
When Covid hit, many dealers were left wondering how this new resurgence in the antiques and vintage marketplace would fare during lockdowns and storefront closures. However, mid-way through the pandemic, to the surprise of many, dealers were reporting strong online numbers and solid curbside sales. For those in the industry, there was worry the success may have only been temporary, due to people staying at home and having little else to do other than peruse online sales and auction sites. However, this notion quickly changed as dealers across the country began reporting some of their best numbers to-date following the lifting of pandemic restrictions.
In Florida, one of the first states to roll-back Covid regulations, there was a sharp and consistent rise in overall storefront and online sales, according to Todd McMurry, whose brick's-and-clicks business near Miami's South Beach has seen it all over the last forty years. "It really reminds me of the roaring 80s," say McMurry. "When the pandemic hit, we dropped on floor sales but made up the difference online. Now that we're fully open to the public again, I can barely keep up with finding stock." McMurry says that while his inventory in the past mostly consisted of Art Deco pieces to match the surrounding areas architecture, he has recently begun to expand out to later mid-century and vintage pieces from the 70s. "It doesn't seem to matter what I put out there," says McMurry, "right now the demand is outstripping my supply."
For others in the trade, the reopening of in-person antique shows and fairs has also seen a marked rise in customer interest in virtually everything related to antiques and collectibles. Donna Rice, a dealer/picker who covers the Texas and southeast circuit of antique and vintage fairs, says that prior to the pandemic there was always a steady stream of customers wherever she showed, but that now people are lining up at the gate sometimes an hour or two before just to get in. "I've never seen this kind of demand," says Rice, "People are literally scooping up my Fiestaware plates and 50's kitchen collectibles before I can even get them onto the shelves." Rice says she's not alone in noticing the uptick, "All the dealers have been doing really, really well." While pent-up demand from sitting at home during Covid probably has something to do with the rise in sales, Rice believes it's more than that, "Our online sales have also continued to stay strong, much stronger than even before the pandemic." However, it's not just about the sales reflecting a change in the marketplace, according to Rice, but the nature of the crowds too. "There's definitely a younger vibe to those attending the shows - it's almost like they're fed-up with Amazon ordering and are simply wanting to try something different."
Roger Allison, a statistician and vintage-reseller who likes to analyze figures in his spare time, says that he's also noticed a substantial increase in the volume of online sales results from antique and vintage auctions sites that are related to his business. "During the height of Covid you could easily see how the number of realized-sales from auctions had climbed, but later, after the health restrictions were loosened, those numbers continued to rise," says Allison, "That's a pretty good sign the market is getting stronger." While acknowledging that his back-of-the-napkin math is only anecdotal, Allison, who lists across multiple platforms, says that the smaller auction sites can still provide a wealth of statistical information on the health of the industry to interested dealers. "The smaller sites tend not to charge for membership and often give out great sales results and data for free." As for his own business, Allison says that sales of his vintage and mid-century themed lighting have been booming. "I don't think I've ever seen a market as buoyed-up as this, says Allison, "I just hope it keeps going."
For a lot of industry insiders, that's probably their biggest fear - is this kind of market sustainable? Many of the dealers we spoke with felt that in some respects Covid may turn out to be the catalyst that returns the decorative arts back to it's glory years of the 1980s. Not because of the nature of the pandemic itself, but because it forced people inside, and by association, onto their computers, where they had a chance to slow-down, contemplate, and possibly rediscover the past and the items that belonged to it. Todd McMurray, who remembers the decade well, says that while nothing is for sure just yet, he thinks it's about time for interest in the decorative arts to start hitting a peak again. "I've been at this for over forty years now," says McMurray, "and if my post-Covid sales continue to hold true, I'll beat my best 80s numbers by a long shot..."
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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