The future of antiques

People have been collecting things for a long time. Some collect for fun, others collect for the hunt and some collect for the investment. Most of us have inherited something or bought something we thought might become valuable at some point. Since the prices of antiques and collectibles have varied much in the last several years and their value is on a bit of a downslide let take a look at some factors for this.

There are several factors that make an antique or collectible valuable. One is the condition. Everyone knows that the better shape something is in, the higher the value when it is sold. Mint in the original box is usually the best you can strive for. This means your item is untouched/unused and is in its original packaging or is still sealed and unopened. “New old stock” or NOS, refers to an item that is old but looks as though it just was taken off the sales shelf.

Another is rarity. Is the item scarce or did they make millions of them? If they made many of an item, how many are left? Baseball cards are printed in the millions. However an original Honus Wagner card can fetch over $4,000,000.00. Why? Because the run was cut short and there are only about 50 to 75 known copies in existence. A 1952 Mickey Mantle card can fetch up to $2.5 million but being newer there are reprints all over the place. You have to be very careful in these leagues.

Everyone went nuts during the Beanie Baby craze in the 1990’s. Even though they made millions of each one, I sold many for $400 to $500 when the craze was in full swing but the market has fallen drastically since and most can be found in thrift stores or online for a couple dollars each.

Next is demand. Remember when Furby’s were hot? How about Elmo? People were literally trampling each other in stores as they were the “must have toy” for the year. Again it comes back to supply and demand, and since there is no demand anymore, you can now find them cheap.

Quality of material or assembly is another key element. Items that were well built simply hold up better then something that was slapped together on an assembly line. Also quality of materials make a huge difference. For example in furniture, good hard word is obviously more desirable than laminated particle board. Yet they make millions if not billions of pieces of furniture a year out of shredded wood and glue. Will it become a valuable antique in 50 to 100 years? Probably not.

Products used to be made to last. Companies and employees were proud of the products they made and put real effort into making the best product they could. I know of late 1920’s GE Monitor top refrigerators that are still running today. They originally sold for an amazing $525 which is about $1500 today. So no one on the assembly line wanted to make a refrigerator that would fail the customer at that price.

Many antiques are items that were constructed so well that they are still around, were items that only a limited number of examples were ever made, or so many of them were discarded due to use that only a few examples survived, or that are just in stellar condition. The usual consensus for the age of an item to be an antique is around 100 years, but this is flexible depending on the category.  For example cars can be considered an antique at 30, but not all 30 year old cars are valuable antiques.

How does this portend to the future? This is a hard question to answer. For example I used to be able to sell every antique tin candle mold I could find for close to $75 or $80. They went for over $100 in New York. (this is because another factor in value can be location.) Now, they don’t bring anywhere near that. In fact I haven’t sold one in nearly 10 years.

In 50 years will any plastic, mass produced product be considered a valuable antique? Will a 1980 Mr. Coffee Maker be worth big bucks? I doubt it but you never know. Will you go to an auto museum in the future and see a 2010 Toyota Corolla or Camry? My wife swears her Honda Element will someday be as sought after as a 1957 Chevy, but again, I would think no, but you never know what can happen.

I am currently seeing the value of antiques and collectibles dropping. Remember the saying “It’s only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” Prices and values of items over the years were trends set by what the items sold for. These trends are changing. Part of this is because the long time collectors of antiques (think our parents and grandparents) are passing on.

The surviving family members are not as interested (in some cases not at all) in collecting for many different reasons, and so they are selling the items. When everyone sells their similar items or class of items, it floods the market with good examples, and it makes them harder to sell due to oversupply. This in turn drives the prices down as people accept less money in order to sell the items. The biggest examples of this would be china sets, crystal, silver plate items and pottery.

Collecting is also generational and learned. If you don’t come from a family of collectors, you are probably not as likely to collect anything. If you are a member of Gen-X as I am, (I missed being a boomer by a year) you were exposed to collecting and also being taught to take care of your items so they would last. In contrast there are about 75 million millennial’s now between the ages of 8 to 27 who grew up in an electronic and disposable society. Everything is at their fingertips though the internet as well as selling sites such as Amazon. I have millennial’s who visit my shop and just take photos of items, and that seems to be cool enough for them. They don’t feel the need to own things. This could effect the values of antiques fatally if this trend continues.

I find collecting things to be a challenge. When I get a bug to start collecting something, I want to learn as much as I can about what I am collecting. I enjoy displaying the items, and improving my collection by finding better examples of the items and trading up. I find the hunt to be part of the fun. I have found examples of items I collect from all over while traveling and these memories make the items all the more special to me.

Of course I want the value of antiques and collectibles to increase. In addition to someday selling off my collections (I am in the same boat since my kids don’t want my stuff either) I have a store full of amazing antiques that I am always looking for new homes for. I hope the pendulum swings again and interest in, and prices of antiques increase, as well as new items becoming antiques in the future.

The future of antiques is in future hands.