Can Betty White and the AARP Save the Antiques Biz?

By David Shankbone (Betty White David Shankbone 2010 NYC)via Wikimedia Commons

If Betty White told you to buy antiques, would you? More verification that the antiques trade is in disarray and more idea on what to do about it came in my mailbox today  in the November/December The Magazine Antiques. Skimming the letter you may end up with a not entirely accurate take-away that Betty White and the AARP might help save the industry.

In the Editor’s Letter, Elizabeth Pochoda writes about a group of collectors who recently got together and came up with the idea to form a trade association to help things out.

Pochoda writes that while the idea is a good one, the mission is urgent. Teaching folks about antiques is a fine goal, but not one that’s going to help move expanding inventory anytime soon. Pochada suggests focusing on a national media campaign and perhaps a engaging spokesperson for the industry, which would be costly.

That’s where she loses me. Pochoda suggests a person situated culturally between Phillippe de Montebello and Betty White—though a lot younger, and then goes on to suggest the possibility of an alliance with the AARP. Montebello, a former Met curator, was born in 1936. Betty White, while having some appeal to members of younger generations, was born in 1922. I don’t think either could be taken as a suggested spokesperson, but I’m not sure floating the names brings us any closer to reviving the industry.

I’m also not sure an effective campaign would be expensive, however. It just needs to be creative. Antiques are receiving considerable airtime on old media anyway with Antiques Road Show, Pawn Stars and American Pickers. I think we’d go farther with a new media campaign focusing on Youtube, Facebook and targeting urban vintage markets, which seem to have no shortage of younger “antique” hungry customers. Listen to my conversation with Eric Demby of the Brooklyn Flea when he says without a doubt, these will be the consumers of higher-priced vintage goods.  Perhaps hiring someone like Eddie Ross, take him to a few classes at Winterthur, then send him out to find real antiques in shows and walk through the period rooms at the Brooklyn Museum. Upload the videos to Facebook and Youtube and we’ll have twice the bang of an old media campaign at a fraction of the cost.

I do want to thank Pochoda for not using the word green and agree with a later point, that a campaign should not fous on collecting, rather just float the idea of purchasing a few antiques. Pochoda also refers to a friend’s belief that the word antiques has an aura too closely associated with mud turtles, but defends its use saying the campaign could help bring it around to a positive. Myself, I’ve been in enough persnickety arguments about what exactly an antique is to use the word “vintage.” I think this word already has a positive connotation with younger collectors and could eliminate those persnickety arguments. Vintage is cool and perhaps my classical sideboard could be cool too if I call it vintage. I think I like it better already.

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is ericmiller.me

5 comments

You are on the right track in thinking the mobilization of a new generation of customers in not going to happen by relying on the methodology that attracted previous generation. I was at the meeting and am still involved, but the trick is to get ball rolling instead of arguing who’s going to push it.

I have my doubts whether a media campaign could be large enough to make a dent. If there is a campaign it should be to handhold antiques dealers and show promoters and get them online. To me it so important it’s like pulling them off the street so they aren’t hit by a truck. Young people won’t “learn” to do things the way the boomers do. Boomers have to learn how to talk to young people. At the age of 41 I can already see myself having the same sorts of problems with 20 and even 30 somethings. Jon, we’re about the same age, so I imagine you may have this sense too.

I wish I could give you an exact count of how many times I’ve heard from a 65 or older customer that they have just decreased the size of their household and don’t need another thing in it. They are de-cluttering their lives and breaking down their homes. A “collection” doesn’t fit in.

My theory on where this industry is right now and the strong direction it’s headed is in decorative and wearable. Both of which are useful recycled or up-cyled ways to use vintage. That is what is “cool”. Instead of buying at Ikea, you come to the Randolph Street Market. This is one of the big reasons we’ve made one entire section on the show furniture and decorative items. It appeals to people who are decorating and decorators and designers themselves. No one is “collecting” this furniture. It’s for the home. Now if it has antique or collectible value, that’s a great bonus but I really feel like this isn’t first on their list as to why they want it.

Of course I can’t forget WHY targeting this crowd, the AARP crowd IS important, it’s because they have money and are more likely to support the Armory show on Park Ave. But they are in the minority now.

Leave a Reply

*