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TexasDude's avatar

What's in store for the future of antique collecting?

Asked by TexasDude (25229 points ) July 30th, 2012

I’ve been an antique collector since I was old enough to know that I could give people money in exchange for neat old things. I’ve amassed quite a collection of antique artifacts that many of you have seen parts of in pictures. I love collecting antiques and pride myself on my collection. As such, I often wonder about the future of antique collecting, because I feel like I’ve grown up at an interesting (and perhaps troubling) crossroads for the hobby.

Mass production of cheaply-made goods as opposed to the careful creation of quality products (such as handmade household items and industrial products manufactured in small numbers) has been the norm for years now. High-quality (or at least interesting) products from the past are not being made anymore, and by their nature will become rarer and rarer with each passing generation. For example, cheap particle board furniture (such as products from IKEA and Wal Mart) will become more and more common as older, high quality pieces become more scarce. Pieces with a high level of craftsmanship will be available, albeit considerably more rare.

Due to ever increasing rarity and the apparently uncollectible nature of most modern products, will antique collecting eventually become a hobby that only the wealthy can pursue? Will the stuff we can buy today that is available by the thousands at Big Box stores wind up in the antique stores of the future, or will less common art pieces made in exceedingly small numbers wind up there instead? Will the paradigm shift in another direction entirely to favor goods that aren’t so cheaply made?

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29 Answers

Bellatrix's avatar

I think you are right that in the future there will be a smaller quantity of quality items that people will want to collect. In the future the prices of handmade, beautiful items made now will probably be very high. The price to purchase hand crafted furniture etc. is high now for quality items. I have bespoke furniture, artworks and hand blown glass items. All expensive to buy but they will last and are beautiful examples of carpentry and glass blowing. I will hand my loved possessions down to my children and grandchildren.

TexasDude's avatar

@Bellatrix that’s kind of what I was thinking, which really makes me sad. I plan on passing my collection down to my kids as well.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard There’s still some quality stuff being made, you just have to look a little harder to find it. I deal with some amazing craftsmen. They’re struggling with the opposite side of what you’re saying. Buyers don’t want to pay them for quality work. I’m hoping we’ll get tired of crappy stuff and quality will come back into favor, but I’m not counting on it.

TexasDude's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe yeah, I’m aware of the quality stuff. I work with a lot of different craftsmen on a pretty regular basis (everyone from furniture makers to stain glass artists). The fact that their work is the exception, rather than the rule in today’s consumer culture is what leads me to my belief that antique collecting will one day be inaccessible to anyone but the wealthy due to the fact that not many things will really count as desirable antiques one day. I’m hoping the demand for cheap crap goes away too as part of some paradigm shift, but I’m not counting on it either.

Earthgirl's avatar

I think there will be collectibles and some of it will be quality and some may be the future of what we see as kitsch now. It’s usually what becomes emblematic (or iconic) of a style that falls out of favor and then some hipster of the future will decide it’s cool and bring it back.

The quality furniture and collectible items of the future are what today’s artisans are making now. They may not be as classic as the antiques of yesteryear and they may not be of as high a quality, but they could be. The fact is that many of what are now lost art forms were too painstaking to learn and time consuming to survive into the modern age. Yet in spite of this you will always find some crazy passionately devoted artist who decides to take up one of these lost arts. I spoke to a scrimshaw artist just today in Newport who carves wooly mammoth tusks.Sometimes these artists are historical sticklers determined to mine the past and bring it back to life exactly as it was. Sometimes they want to take an old form and make it new, put a new twist onto it and breath new life into it or fashion it more to modern tastes. Nowadays it’s popular to “upcycle” things, refashioning something new from something old and discarded or unfashionable.Many of these things will be collectible in the future I think.

But I know what you mean about it being a little sad that the whole antique market will be different than it has been in the recent past. Nowadays all many people can afford is Ikea and that is certainly not collectible! Maybe another reason people don’t invest in furniture is that we are a more mobile society than generations past.

But just to give you hope that cool furniture will exist in the future take a look at this!

YARNLADY's avatar

Rich people are still buying quality, long lasting furniture, just like they always have.

jca's avatar

@YARNLADY: Yes, but what he is saying is that quality, long lasting furniture used to be very commonplace, as everyone had it, so now it’s not so hard to find it in antiques. However, since quality, long lasting furniture is not commonplace, as only rich people buy it for the most part, in the future, it will be extremely hard to find it in antiques.

TexasDude's avatar

@Earthgirl that chair is way cool. And excellent answer. I guess I’m really almost morbidly curious as to what kitschy objects of today will wind up being seen as collectible in the future, even if I can’t make that call from where I sit today.

WestRiverrat's avatar

I just bought this bed. I hope it lasts a few generations longer than I do.

There will always be some quality furniture made. There was a lot of garbage made back in the day too. The masses certainly could not afford high quality furniture any more than they can now.

There may be one or two nice pieces in a family, but most of people had the stuff was cheap wood that didn’t last.

TexasDude's avatar

@WestRiverrat good point. A lot of collectible antiques today were just as expensive when they were originally made, and a lot of garbage from back then fell through the cracks too, which is something I should remember.

Symbeline's avatar

I’m guessing that yes, things considered antiques today will be harder and harder to find. Obviously, they’re not being made anymore. As time goes on, some will be lost, others bought by rich folks. I would have to guess that the hunting of antiques might indeed require a bit of a demand on what you can financially do, as I assume is already the case, anyway.

However, this, in part, concerns antiques that have a worth, and that collectors look for. I’m willing to bet there are tons of antiques out there that may not have much value or that people don’t care about, but that would still be great for an antique hunter to own. I’m not a collector, and even if it doesn’t count as an antique, I’d love to own one of those old ass Pepsi cans, the white ones with the old logo on it. Or again, one of those pop bottles with the black knuckled bottom.

I guess a lot of antiques are readily available; I own a pendulum wall clock I got at a yard sale for five dollars. However, I’m actually unsure if it’s genuine, or a ’‘remake’’ if you will. I don’t have the eye for this stuff, I can’t tell. It’s in excellent condition though. I also used to have a scimitar that I found in some basement, and ’‘preparate a vienne morir’’ was carved on the blade. That was definitely genuine, it was in bad shape, but real. Unfortunately, I lost it years ago.

Anyways my point is, for all genuine antiques, sought for or overlooked, I can only assume that as time goes by, they’ll be harder to find, even more so than now. Because either they’re already owned, or because something discontinued wasn’t taken care of. I guess you never know how and where you’ll find them, but I would have to say that some extra money is definitely going to be a needed tool for continuing to collect. I suppose that also depends on what you’re after. Is old furniture from the 20’s easier to find than firearms from WWI? I think that’s probably a factor to consider.

TexasDude's avatar

@Symbeline that scimitar sounds badass.

Unfortunately for me, most of the stuff I actively collect is highly desirable and already commands a premium on the collector’s market unless you get lucky. Military and photography stuff is always highly sought after, and old guns appreciate in value by the month sometimes. Old medical stuff is already super hard to find. I’ve been able to do well with books and ephemera, though. I think the book and ephemera market will hold out longer than bigger items.

Symbeline's avatar

I’m guessing a lot of the military stuff must be hard to get yeah, especially since historians or museum curators probably have a bigger advantage at nabbing that stuff than you do. Not sure how it works, but I can imagine some of it must be a bitch to get. Hell you collect vintage Halloween decorations, I don’t even know where to begin to look for these things.

TexasDude's avatar

@Symbeline I’ve picked up most of my Halloween stuff at little hole in the wall shops. Mine isn’t particularly valuable, but some of the old German stuff from the 20’s and 30’s is worth a fortune. Military stuff is a crapshoot. Sometimes you get lucky and find something at an old vet’s estate that nobody knows what it is, but most of the time, people know exactly what they are selling and try to sell it for more than it’s worth.

Symbeline's avatar

Aah I see…didn’t think about bartering, which I’m only good at for used video games. Does that ever work in antique dealing?

TexasDude's avatar

@Symbeline it can. A lot of people are firm in their pricing, though. And it’s hard to negotiate unless you are a surly old man.

Symbeline's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard Isn’t that what you are? XD :p

TexasDude's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard I don’t know about old, but I’m definitely surly ;D

Symbeline's avatar

A trait I can always appreciate. :D

TexasDude's avatar

Goddamnit, I just noticed I addressed myself instead of you, @Symbeline. I’m an idiot.

Symbeline's avatar

And I didn’t even fuckin notice until you mentioned it, what does that make me, bro? XD

wildpotato's avatar

I think we’ll see Man in the High Castle-style “antiques” manufacturing once the genuine stuff runs out. I bet this already happens with some of the supposedly vintage items hipsters love to stock up on here in Brooklyn.

Jenniehowell's avatar

it’s all relative – just as we do with music. Each generation has it’s own “thing” that is considered talented and popular & each generation older than that one is annoyed and/or laughing at how half the music today is a knock off or sample of something older and these kids wouldn’t know real music if it bit them on the ass etc.

People in future generations will appreciate plastic mcdonald’s toys, disposable cameras and particle board kit furniture more than we probably realize. There’ll be some appraiser on tv on the antiques roadshow telling some youngster about how back in the day there were kits for everything and particle board was the cheap/easy way to go.

jca's avatar

@Jenniehowell: True, just like we appreciate kitsch from the 50’s to the 70’s. Stuff that was thrown out by our parents and grandparents is now on websites as “vintage” and “collectable.”

TexasDude's avatar

@Jenniehowell my grandparents already have a pretty large collection of McDonald’s toys, although theirs are a bit older. You’re probably right about the future of collecting antiques as a whole. I guess my concern is actually what the future of my particular kind of collecting is, since I collect mostly old photographic equipment, military antiques, and a few other more difficult categories.

Jenniehowell's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard those categories seem pretty stable to my imagination. Photo equipment, military collections, furniture, Hollywood, housewares, art & comics – all of it is & always has been collectible. I think the reason is because eventually people grow up & begin to appreciate such things in different ways.

I am a military veteran so perhaps I’m a bit biased but the right military stuff is definitely collectible & I think will remain so – the collectibility & interest seems it would remain moderately steady while the technology is what changes. For one collector civil war stuff may be their thing but perhaps in the future someone will appreciate a collection of the disks & papers published when the military was preparing for Y2K (which makes me wish I’d have kept that useless stuff instead of throwing it out lol).

Relevant &/or functional items seem to stay around for the most part & until we have a good 500 years or so of world peace I can’t imagine war/military things not being relevant.

TexasDude's avatar

@Jenniehowell I probably should have clarified: I’m generally interested in military artifacts from pretty much any era. However, I focus on things traceable to colonial conflicts, the Spanish-American War, and World War One (usually Navy stuff, since that’s what I wrote my thesis on in college). These are all fixed events and relics from these eras can only become more rare. I also collect historical military firearms and ever since most militaries made the switch to fully automatic weapons in the 50s and 60s, they are unlikely to ever sell them as surplus like most highly collectible antique arms were originally entered into the market as (there is also the law to account for) which means the pool of collectible items will continue to dwindle.
But your point is really very applicable to future collectors in general, which answers my question. Uniforms, ephemera, and useful surplus goods will probably be available and desireable for a long time, and the conflicts of today will be the historical events of tomorrow.

Jenniehowell's avatar

Yep you’re right RE: the surplus etc. for future collectors – in your case I can only imagine such things being in museums at some eventual point since it isn’t likely that folks are selling them after they get them. Seems like worthy collections would be great museum donations upon someone’s retirement or death etc. unless they were passed down in the family.

I’ve noticed the stuff that becomes REALLY old ends up in museums and the stuff that is sort of old ends up in some guy’s storage or house somewhere.

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