The Right Angle: Fun first, passion second.
Regardless of the economy, the prospects for the antiques business would not look bright without extending its customer base to younger generations. But is there a sure-fire approach?
First of all, I strongly disagree that younger generations would not develop interests in antiques until they grow older. Most of the antique dealers would admit that their passion for antiques came out of their early exposure of antiquing. Collecting is NOT age-dependent, but part of the human nature. Good fortune enables one to buy with bigger budgets, but that does not necessarily lead to great interest or knowledge. In fact, it is constant conflict between what to choose and what to give up that makes each antiquing experience unique, and that is also the part of the life being young with little budget.
Antiques are green. I would not argue with that. But if one does a quick search online, it is easy to find out the eulogy comes ubiquitously from the trade itself. The concept does not ring with young collectors who are greeted by dealers driving 300 miles on 15 mpg vans to the show. The word “green” does not link well with the polished veneer, shining sterling or gilded frames. Dollars are green, aren’t they?
Antiques are good investment. Although I have not ventured into getting into the trade, I would personally rather invest my spare money in a hot stock instead of Chippendale chairs. Warren Buffet said “if you don’t know enough to evaluate it as a business you don’t know enough to buy it”. In the age when even dealers are having a hard time to figure out what sells, the lure of profitability can only distract them from buying from heart. College graduates go to an antiques store to look for individuality that suits the personal tastes, decorative purposes and a tight budget. To emphasize monetary value of antiques as stock-alternative to young collectors is essentially to strip off the charm and intimacy and tag them with hard, cold numbers. Most people buying most objects may become very disillusioned when its time to sell. As an appraiser was quoted in a recent Maine Antiques Digest article, when he told furniture collectors recently how much furniture they’ve held for decades was worth, they usually responded with a gasp.
That antiquing is fun is one of the messages sent by the show “Antiques in Charlottesville“, which happened last weekend. Eric Miller, the publicity director of the show, reached deep into University of Virginia and brought young generation in through the media that they are familiar with: lecturers, online articles, twitter, facebook, and school message boards. The private tour, led by a renowned expert in period furniture and fine arts, Will Paulsen, was extremely successful. After the tour most of the students came back on the second or the third day to reexamine items that were discussed, explore new findings and make purchases. Once passed the admission desk, many students found out that a great number of items were not as expensive as they had thought. (Paulsen had also identified many items he felt represented good values.) Jeffery Spear, one of the exhibitors, commented that “the show is a balanced mixture” so that there was something for everyone. During the tour, Mr. Paulsen asked students to take time to look and occasionally handed over the conservation directly to the dealer who gave in-depth discussion of their field. The enjoyable field trip of the class proves that one does not have to buy to enjoy the show, but a few sparks can easily lead to their first purchase, as some of the returned students proved.
The show management’s determination to reach out to the young collectors is evident in their utilization of school message boards. Traditional social networking tools such as Facebook or Twitter has the limitation that the message can only reach those whom are connected. The vast majority of college students, however, are unlikely to be a fan of an antiques show or a follower of a dealer, yet they have their own message boards and internal emailing list. A few graduate students from University of Virginia paid the visit by learning a discount admission fee to the show. “They are lovely.” Carroll Swope, an exhibitor from Canton Ohio said,” they were interested in a lot of things. Although they didn’t buy anything, but they may in five or ten years. It’s most important that we see them here.”
Two students from China learned from the dealer Sue Robinette that coin silver flatware was unique American silverware and went further to compare them with sterling flatware. “It was so much fun here. I have not seen these before!” They commented upon leaving after near four-hour stroll in different booths.
Antiquing is fun. And let’s have fun together.
Here are how exhibitors were having fun in the end.