Over the past twenty years, many dealers in antiques have morphed their operations and storefronts from traditional wares and locations into online venues and mid-century themes. However, as we wrote about last month, these lines are now beginning to blur as some of the more common modernist motifs are beginning to recede in favor of a more 'antiquated' look.
In our second-part of this series, we're examining the role "vintage" items are now playing when it comes to some antique dealers stock and how it's affecting their bottom line.
From the very beginning of the slide in traditional antiques, back in the early nineteen-nineties, it was clear to many in the industry that something would eventually need to replace it. Both New York and London were at the epicenter of the shift as top dealers dropped in numbers by over 70%, according to Clinton Howell, a New York-based dealer in English furniture and the president of CINOA and the Art & Antiques Dealers League.
However, by the turn of the new millennium, younger entrants into the decorative arts market saw the interest in early modernist themes and began popping up storefronts in hip and upcoming spaces - often in underdeveloped and underappreciated urban neighborhoods. Not to be outdone, older more established antique dealers started to notice the trend, and soon began to follow the pattern by hunting for the odd and unusual top-of-the-line mid-century piece to add to their own inventory.
As the mid-century movement took off, so did sales for those who had adapted to the new trend. However, for those dealers who didn't fully embrace the modernist attitude, a new and less expensive theme began to emerge; vintage. While initially used as a catchphrase to encompass everything that wasn't antique, the term eventually began to take on a life of its own, often representing decade specific pieces that were usually emblematic of a particular time and style. Antique dealers who latched onto the burgeoning trend were often handsomely rewarded for their foresight.
For others like Sherry and Nick Wilson who run an antique and vintage co-op in Idaho, blending was the key to their success. When they took over the old "antique mall" in Sherry's hometown, dealers were struggling with late Victorian items and country themed furniture from the nineteen-thirties. "It wasn't all bad," says Sherry, who had previously worked in a 'cool' consignment shop in Chicago, "its just that it needed some updating and rebranding." With the help of her husband, they were able to convince most of the vendors to start upcycling vintage and retro finds into their existing inventory. "We told them to use the wood pieces to showcase some of the vintage items," says Nick, "and it worked - they started selling not only the newer stuff but also some of the older inventory that had been sitting for months."
Both the Wilson's caution that this approach may not work for everyone, as Sherry points to the fact that her previous place of employment in Chicago was strictly mid-century themed, which she initially tried to bring to the co-op. "It just didn't work," said Sherry, "We tried, but folks weren't willing to pay the high prices for the latest trend, so we moved to vintage and retro and have never looked back."
For many other dealers in the market it would seem that the run to blend more vintage and retro items into one's inventory may now be the new normal, or as one sartorially inclined dealer put it, "It's now become the antique dealer's new black."
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