Everything old becomes OLDER
I imagine that I became wizened about 15 years ago. I grew up in a family business and began dusting furniture when I was 5 years old. I probably have seen 20 business cycles. Five of them where real punches in the gut. The truth is that people spend when it makes sense to them. If the stock market is hot the opportunity cost of buying luxury items can wait. If taxes are formidable money used for investments leaves or worse. Some financial instruments do nothing except theoretically shelter some store of value. When capital becomes parked in these assets they are not available in a broad sense to help improve the business environment. They might appreciate if things get worse but that it.
Until relatively recently art and antiques where thought of as assets. As a general rule you could expect fairly steady appreciation and conventional thought was that in about 10 years you should be able to recover a substantial part of your original cost. This last cycle punched most dealers in the nose along with their collectors. We learned that only the finest examples would hold up in the most challenging markets. While the overwhelming majority o objects is good or better only the exceptional held up. Horror of horrors we learned we where part of the fashion world that had gone gray. Suddenly almost all decisions where driven by price. Even more horrifying was the very inexpensive and attractive copies being made and imported. For most of my career a good looking copy often cost as much as a 200 year old original. Now this was not true except the construction of these imitations was often so poor it was hard to believe. Some chairs where made out of cast and hardened foam.
This last year has been challenging but we have to be grateful that for some the gray has lost its appeal and a good amount of color is returning to home furnishing. It is unlikely we will see rock star prices return to the level of the 80’s but I am happy to report that the most interested in this material are about 30 and much younger. They seem to have lost interest in “paper plate” furniture and are interested in quality and construction that will last generations. Today prices for well made new pieces are usually higher than a well made older piece. You can find some amazing things for sale alongside of some really good things. If you are thinking about these things as investments get the best advice you can from a knowledgeable and disinterested party. We have worked with estates where one collection from one source was good to excellent. The other part of the collection was more expensive and impressive but altered in such a way to make it hard to sell even if it is beautiful.
Vetted shows are particularly funny. If people understood the truth of them it would be reasonable. Representations are made that the buyers are protected by the vetting committee which usually turns out to be a group of dealers probably exhibiting at the show. I had an ancient carving acquired at a vetted show. In the meantime the dealer has gone to jail for less than reputable behavior. I had no idea of this so after one angry email from a person aware of this dealers reputation and my own research I removed the object from the market and returned it. Believe me vetted or no, there was no recourse. In Europe and on the East Coast I am told by people I respect that these matters are taken far more seriously. It would make sense that California is a little experimental.
For me it has always been the treasure hunt. I can think of worse and better ways to pass my time. I love learning about a piece and hopefully making some money in the meantime. It makes sense that not everything goes well. Years ago a friend laughed and said I only had to be right about a few of them. Over the years I have had a very nice time and bought some amazing things. The problem is the same for all of us. The good stuff generally goes quickly and often dealers will hide the best for their favorite clients. I encourage you to ask if you don’t see what you want. You might be surprised. Happy hunting.