The Journey of Antiquing — 6

Putting a little light on reaching young collectors

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.

Bad angles:

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.

Good angles:

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.

About UAA Team

Urban Art and Antiques first published in 2007. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, let us know. Email urbanartantiques (at) gmail.com

3 comments

Hi, I’m from Green Spot Antiques in Cambridge ONtario.

The analysis is off the mark.
Antiques are Green: yes this works, the younger people understand it. our byline has been, for years that we are “antiques recyclers”. Our name, store, stock, and customers are based on this as a biz profile. And it works.

Antiques as an investment: partly true, but do comparison shopping at mid-low levels and you’ll see young people talking about stopping their purchases of chipboard and wanting at least “real wood” furniture again. We don’t have to tell them that — they learnt it after their second colllege move.

Antiquing as fun: well, that too is true, but secondary. It’s not fun unless you see the value in the items in front of you. Either you have the attitude or you don’t. Wheras the intro by $$ or “recyling” introduces them to antiques, and, well, the fun and joy can follow later.

IN fact, we offer our younger customers special under-30 discounts, and they keep coming back for more.

I’m sorta glad we don’t do shows anymore if they are to be considered as fun, learning experiences for the younger crowd.
Give em something they can use and want now, and they’ll grow with it later.

I can see why folks are using the “green” label for antiques now, but I have two reservations.

The first is any old furniture, including something bought at Target last year, can be considered “green.” It’s not actually the furniture that’s green, it’s the choice of buying new vs. used. You’d never want to call an antique “used furniture,” however. That’s not encouraging anyone to look at the artistic and intrinsic value.

Second, consumers are savvy these days and see through every insincere promotion or statement. Antiques are being driven hundreds of miles in big trucks to be sold, sometimes taking on many more miles than a new product. That’s not a green practice.

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