Saturday, March 10, 2018

Why Are the Prices of Antique Furniture Declining?

Prices of antiques are collapsing:
Compared with the heyday of antiques collecting, prices for average pieces are now “80 percent off,” said Colin Stair, the owner of Stair Galleries auction house in Hudson, N.Y. “Your typical Georgian 18th century furniture, chests of drawers, tripod tables, Pembroke tables,” he noted, can all be had for a fraction of what they cost 15 to 20 years ago.

In 2002, Mr. Stair sold a set of eight George III-style carved mahogany chairs for $8,000; in 2016, he sold a similar set of eight chairs for $350.

In 2003, he dispatched a Regency breakfront bookcase for $9,500; in 2016, the sales price of an equivalent piece had plummeted to $1,300.
Tyler Cowen has some theories:
1. eBay and the internet have increased supply more than demand. . . .

2. The article also demonstrates that many buyers are refocusing their demands on newer pieces. Our attitude toward the past may have changed in some fundamental way, with items before a certain date just not existing in most people’s aesthetic universes. . . .

3. Homes have changed: “More homes have open-concept, casual living spaces rather than formal dining rooms and studies, which reduces the need for stately mahogany dining tables, chairs and cabinets.”

4. The aesthetic of the internet itself has pushed people away from “old and musty.” Just look at the kind of images you see on Instagram.
To which one might add:
  • Trends happen.
  • Comfort is everything now – look at the way we dress.
  • What isn't comfort is convenience.
  • And, yes, we seem to be in a very present-oriented era, in which the past is increasingly just that time when we had slavery and patriarchy. The other day I was looking at a book about the work of a neotraditional architect and though it was very much my own aesthetic the pictures creeped me out a little because they looked like the homes of rich Republicans who hate taxes and think the poor deserve it. (Hey, part of the reason I hate brutalism is that it looks like Stalinism in concrete.)
But if you always wanted some 200-year-old furniture, now is the time to buy.


Shadow said...

4 or 5 estate auctioneers tell me Millennials aren't interested.

Kpgoog said...

Some antiques prices have held if not gone up. Hard core collectors of glass, ceramics, brass all have an academics (or better) knowledge of the minutae regarding their area of interest and will pay top dollar for genuine and rare antique bottles, candlesticks, etc. When Ebay came along at first there were some bargains to be had. But browsing the site now reflects wide ranging, easy access to what was previously expert or insider knowledege only, Prices are standardized because people now easily find out what an item is and how much it just sold for. In short the internet has ruined finding a bargain in antiques for those of us browsing antique shops cosistantly for over 40 years. That said the antique furniture market may be a different siyuation with a different explanation though it is worth noting that I have heard this same "meme" go around that millenials disparage dust collecting heavy brown antique furniture so it is possible that this is a version of a story that keeps circulating.

G. Verloren said...


I would bet if you asked those millenials, a lot of them would say: "Antique Furniture? Are you nuts? We're worried about making rent and being able to feed ourselves, and you expect us to be interested in buying expensive luxury goods to replace the utilitarian stuff we already own and depend on? I sleep on a used mattress without a frame, and that barely fit through the door to my crappy apartment as is! In what world do you think I'd have the slightest interest in buying a gigantic oaken Victorian-era four post bed, plus spend the time and money on oiling and maintaining that monstrosity? Cripes, man! If I had money to spend, I'd be putting it toward a better car, or a new computer, or a thousand other far more pressing concerns!"

Shadow said...


Estate auctions cover a wider spectrum than just antique furniture. They can include everything from an antique clock to an old couch to your aunt's favorite gravy boat and ladle. Despite how the media portrays it, Millennials are not the only generation short on money when starting out. All I can tell you is the few Estate Auctioneers I have talked to say this is different.

G. Verloren said...


I uh... mention antique furniture because that's the topic at hand. I assumed you brought up estate sales purely in the context of the original post.

Anyway, I think you might fail to realize just how bad things are for Millenials overall. They aren't merely "short on money when starting out". Huge swathes of them are economically stagnant and in near-poverty, despite already working all the time, and their prospects for enrichment are very poor.

Wages are flat, rent is out of control, home ownership is a joke, and most of the people in charge of the systems which can change those factors are out of touch Baby Boomers and Generation X'ers, who seem unable to understand that their own youths were exceptionally privileged, and that the experience of Millenials is radically different and generally far more dire.

No, it's not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of Millenials doing well for themselves. But there are millions who are not, and when they talk about their hardships, the most pampered, spoiled, and selfish generations in history are astounded by it and attribute it to mere whining and bellyaching. Frankly, that got old years ago now.

Shadow said...

Okay, G. I wasn't dismissing a generation, just pointing out what a few estate auctioneers had said.