Industry Insiders Chime-In On What To Collect For Future Gains
New York - In the ever-evolving world of collecting, certain antique and vintage items often fly under the radar, only to later skyrocket in popularity and value. Savvy collectors know that identifying these hidden gems early on can often lead to rewarding and profitable endeavors. However, it wasn’t that long ago that antiques and many collectibles had fallen from favor among those in certain design circles. But these days, antique and vintage shows are often labeled as one of the hottest selling tickets in town, with shows like the Winter Show in New York, London's Decorative Antiques & Textile Fair in Battersea Park, the Washington Winter Show, and the Nashville Antiques & Garden Show all generating huge attendance numbers. So, if you're looking to stand out from the crowd and want to invest in collectibles that could have the potential to become super popular (read valuable) in the near-term, you might want to consider adding a few of these items to your future collection.
The 1950's Returns
While many baby-boomers still have fond memories of Happy Days reruns and Grease flashbacks, it's another generation that seems to be spinning the wheel forward, at least according to David Kirk, who runs a 1950's vintage themed store in Nevada. "It's all about the kids" says Kirk. "I've been doing this for almost forty years, when boomers were my only customers, but today it's like a third-generation removed." Kirk says that many of his 'younger' clients love the vintage leather jackets, sunglasses, retro-converted car seats, and sock-hop poster memorabilia that adorns his store walls. "It's not Mid-Century stuff per se," says Kirk, "but more like the chrome and vinyl soda-shop bar stools - or what I like to call juke-box décor." Kirk, who also runs an online version of his 50s store, says that sales really began to take-off last year. "I have absolutely no idea why," he mused, but thinks that some of the newfound interest in his 50s-themed Americana items may just be part of a younger generations desire to harken back to what was often perceived as a simpler and less strenuous time in life to grow up in. "I've sold more bobby socks and saddle-shoe combos to kids in their 20s over the last ten months, than over the last five years," says Kirk, "There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to it, other than perhaps a possible breaking trend."
American Folk Art - Portraits
According to some of the top auction houses, sales of Early American antiques are beginning their rise back to prominence within the decorative arts scene, however, a number of auction researchers are also reporting that one particular genre within this field is showing stronger than expected sales. Included in this group is Christie’s Sallie Glover, a specialist in Early American Folk Art who has been predicting the rise in art portraiture for a number of years now. “American folk portraiture appeals to many different types of collectors,” says Glover. “These works can go just as well with traditional American furniture as they do with a modern interior.” Glover's sentiments seem to match other results for online auction reports that also indicate a noticeable rise in popularity for this type of art form. Doris Henley, an Early American themed online dealer who also aggregates realized auction prices for her business, says that sales of her folk art portraits have ballooned over the past ten months. "I could see it coming," says Henley, "at first it was just a dribble, but then it really opened up about a year ago and the prices started to climb." Henley says she doesn't expect the popularity of folk art to wane anytime soon. "Brown wood and history are just coming back into vogue," she says, "this run has a long way to go yet."
Inaya Abbas, who runs a specialty themed bricks-and-clicks business devoted to antique blanket boxes and chests, says that while numbers ramped-up after the pandemic and remained constant for the next year, it wasn't until the start of 2023 that she really began to notice an uptick in requests for items and sales of some of her more ornate inventory. "Shaker stuff was selling," says Abbas, "but the more exotic chests that I'd had shipped back from Asia and the Middle East really started to move," she notes, "It's as if a light went off and everyone suddenly decided they had to have a blanket box - it's been crazy busy," she says. Abbas, who's been selling within the decorative arts scene for almost fifteen-years, believes that we're just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg now as people move further away from today's modern motif as a core decorating principle. "I think it's just time for a change, people seem to want more warmth and color now."
"Some" Georgian Furniture
Backing up Abbas's claim, Noel Fahden, the vice president of merchandising at the online antiques and vintage juggernaut Chairish, also indicated that sales of blanket chests and antique boxes had been on the rise recently, particularly those with original decorative painted finishes. "They can be Swedish or Pennsylvania German, but the more ornamentation the better,” she said. Fahden also went on to note that it wasn't just blanket boxes that had become popular, as she'd also witnessed a pronounced resurgence in traditional furniture over the last year as well. “This ran the gamut from Chippendale to Federal and included both American Colonial Revival pieces and original English and Continental antiques,” said Fahden. Overall, Chairish has recently reported strong upward sales related to almost all aspects of the brown furniture genre.
While it may be hard for some to fathom, since it might only seem like yesteryear that we were all on landlines (we were), Jin Chang says that sales from his retro collection of last century's rotary phones has been on a skyward trajectory since he opened his private collection website to the public and online sales in 2022. "Most of my buyers are Asian kids who love tech stuff." says Chang, "but it's slowly beginning to change." Chang thinks that most of his clients just want that connection to early past tech, and they're willing to pay for it. When he first started out, Chang claims that finding inventory was easy - it was plentiful and cheap - but no longer. "You can still buy some cool hole-dialers at good prices," he notes, but admits that much has changed over the last year or two. "I now have to compete for inventory in some places," he says, "it's not like the old days where you could literally find examples that had been thrown out with the trash." Chang believes that on average, prices for many of his better quality rotary's have probably doubled in price over the last year, and he doesn't see that slowing down anytime soon. "I've got more demand than supply," he says, "so until that changes, I think the market will continue to remain strong."
Vintage Studio Ceramics
Once lacking in the doldrums, vintage studio ceramics finally look to be making a comeback as well, at least according to many auction-house insiders and industry dealers. Benjamin Walker, Bonham's head of global decorative arts and design department, says that the auction house is seeing a comeback in interest for clay. “The international market for contemporary British ceramics is well established and has been growing in strength,” says Walker, “We’re now seeing a growing trend in American studio ceramics that is following this interest. Over the past five to ten years the category has gained more public interest and climbed in value.” Recent sales would seem to back-up Walker's claim, as examples from auction results showing a 1968 Hans Coper vase (with top) being sold for a record-setting $790,000 last year. Pam Newley, a New York artist who works in clay, and who also runs an established online gallery devoted to early twentieth-century American ceramics, says that she's also seen a marked increase in interest by consumers for quality ceramic pieces as well - and not just those from studios. "Ten years ago there just wasn't that much of a market for clay anymore," she says, "but in the last two or three years it's all started to come back." Newley, who's been in business for almost thirty-years knows it's cyclical, "of course," but that it's just starting up again, so for those looking to get in on the ground-floor as collectors or re-sellers, "now would probably be a good time."
For most though, trying to ascertain the vagaries and movement patterns of in-demand objects within the field of the decorative arts can often make one feel like you've got a better chance of nailing water to the wall, rather than getting a reliable market prognostication of things to come. However, as David Kirk is fond of reminding people who visit his store's 1950s-inspired website, "Figuring out what's going to be hot and collectible is easy; it's all just a matter of heading back to the future... again!"
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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