Going Gaga for Antiques

Eva Rinaldi [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia Commons

The debate over how to revive the antiques trade is ongoing. There’s a continual comparison to contemporary art. There’s also talk of how to gather up enough money for a celebrity, perhaps Betty White, perhaps Lady Gaga to come in and save the day.

On the first topic, let me say antiques are not contemporary art. Trying to make them like contemporary art or trying to make antiques shows like Art Basel Miami isn’t going to win people over. Antiques have their own qualities and intrinsic value. Classical music is not cool like Lady Gaga. Having her show up at a symphony might bring people in to hear her, but believe me, if she left at intermission, you’d then have a wider selection of seats in the second half. Maybe antiques are not the hottest thing right now, but these ideas can at best result in posturing. It would be like encouraging people to like art because it matches their drapes, or worse, Lady Gaga’s outfit. Sure, it might result in sales, but if all you want to do is sell, then why bother with antiques? Everyone needs insurance.

People may start to like antiques because they are green. People will love antiques because they are old- and inherently artistic. People like antiques because they are proud of the things they represent. People like antiques because they like history. People like antiques because they like stories, and antiques have stories. People like antiques because they like to collect and have things around them that represent the things and ideas they love. Some people like these things, some don’t care, and some don’t yet know they like them. We need the third crowd.

In my mind, being around antiques has been a pretty enriching experience. It’s that experience of the stories and the history that need to be promoted.

On the second point- the one about the celebrity- I have two words. Gary Vaynerchuck. You may not have heard of Gary, but he’s made a pretty big name for himself with an inexpensive video camera and some opinions about wine. Gary loves wine and talks about what he loves. From that he has had a best-selling book, appearances on late night television and numerous speaking engagements.

We have the idealized notion that someone famous will make antiques popular and everything will be better. Maybe it’s Lady Gaga, but for sure it’s la la.

A celebrity is not what it really takes. It takes someone with a passion for what they love and a camera to start talking about what’s great about antiques- the antiques themselves, not about decorating with them, or at least not as much about decorating with them. The truth is antiques have more air time than ever before. But is anyone talking about why they love antiques?

Now the one person in Post-War America who I think did have an influence on the industry was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I have a photo of a room in a middle-class Cape Cod home filled to the brim with early American antiques. This was clearly not a home of the one percent, but it was a rich environment, and one created by a shared love that really permeated the communities of America. A celebrity spokesperson isn’t going to be able to make that happen. Not Betty White, not Lady Gaga, not even Oprah.

What will help? There are a number of factors contributing to the current environment. Among them are demographics and housing-just a matter of what people can fit into their lives. Those factors we can’t do much about. What we can do is start talking to younger folks through their own communication channels, like Gary Vaynerchuck, and do so sincerely. Someone with the right delivery and message will emerge. I don’t want to say spokesperson, because to me, those days are over. Social media is about peers, and presenting authentic, not marketing-agency created, messages.

That’s where we have to go. Like another author who discusses social media says “Firstly, be brave. Be very brave. Take risks. Take action. And… be authentic.” Jeffrey Hayzlett

About Eric Miller

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

20 comments

‘People will love antiques because they are old- and inherently artistic. People like antiques because they are proud of the things they represent. People like antiques because they like history. People like antiques because they like stories, and antiques have stories. People like antiques because they like to collect and have things around them that represent the things and ideas they love.’

People like antiques for many reasons. Not just those listed. You are listing your own reasons for liking antiques. All of us obviously feel many, if not all , of those things about the material we handle…many people have other reasons to like the material as well.

A designer might like a certain piece of furniture because it’s the right style and the fact that they appreciates the material enough to use an antique piece in a clients home. I’m sure that you yourself cannot imagine buying an antique because it simply looks good. For someone else, that reasoning is perfectly acceptable.

The same piece of furniture might also attract the attention of a self-described ‘collector’. Is one better than the other? I personally want to see antiques lived with, rather than placed in an ivory tower.

The best one can do is educate buyers and try to create enthusiasm for the material using new methods, and sure… it is going to hard for everyone. Change is always hard.

And old painting can be a bad painting, and I would not call it art, nor desirable. A new painting which is beautifully done and in the manner of earlier work can also be called art and desirable. So sure, to some a newly made painting can be just as desirable if the quality is there. I believe you recently admired some paintings which fit that bill. I guess one has to like contemporary art, as well as appreciate the influence earlier work has on current work to appreciate both. Age adds great depth to a piece (which is important) – having existed for a longer period and a longer track record in terms of buying history. Its more an issue of quality.

With regards to furniture and most else, the older the better.

A lot of this comes down to the difference between how women view material and how men do. It’s typically very different.

Ah, Sarah Lamb, yes, great show and I wouldn’t mind seeing those in an antiques show, as long as there’s an awareness of what they are.

Certainly antiques or art can be of poor quality, or good quality.

I was speaking more about the paintings you can find at a furniture store.

For some the painting one finds in the furniture store is acceptable. For myself they are not. I can only speak for myself here.

Regardless, it is the charge of the antique trade to attract as many new clients as possible, and there are obviously numerous approaches to this. Again, it all comes down to gaining a large enough audience up front, and then educating.

People in the business are experimenting with different methods. But no… I don’t think that social media alone is the answer. I believe that a multi-prong plan is more likely to succeed. Is social media part of that, sure. But again, a flip-cam and poor production values will not present antiques in the light they need to be. Low production values in anything can do more harm than good in today’s well marketed world. And sure, antiques are part of that world.

Utilize social media., of course. But in my opinion it’s not the sole answer, particularly if it involves low production values.

The whole business is undergoing a change, and frankly, we really should not be surprised.

The antiques & (true) collectibles market is self adjusting, and always has been.

Supply and demand dictates much of what we do. Certainly we have had events that cause some manipulation of the markets, and the TV hype & focus on the buying and selling aspect of the antiques/collectibles business is a media reaction to hard financial times. The media is responding to the current market…..and that market is the general public who want to know of other ways to make money, rather than relying on the traditional financial system, which in their view has failed them.

We are also seeing another major change related directly to the same principle of supply and demand.

We have a bulge in the population (the Baby Boomer generation) which have been starting to slowly sell/dispose of more vintage things than they buy. At one time, not that long ago, that situation was reversed. The collecting segment of Baby Boomers has dominated the antiques & collectibles market for some time, and they now are in the process of selling their collections. Add to that the fact that their parents are now at an age where they are entering retirement condo complexes, independent/assisted living personal care homes, passing on. So the now those same Baby Boomers are liquidating their parents belongings as well. Adding even more inventory to the market.

Plus, the upper level of the Baby Boomers are doing those same nearing the “end of life” adjustments themselves.

So, who is consuming this burgeoning supply? Financial conditions are not exactly ripe for consumption of non-necessities en-masse. Also, the what well may be the majority of the items being dumped on the market are not being received by the majority of the current collecting population with open wallets. Do most 30-somethings care about a 1950s tin toy? Yes, some of them think they are neat, see their appeal, but for most of that generation, their own childhood memories are rooted in the late 1970s and 1980s. Plastic Transformers tower over tin toys when it comes to what that generation recalls from their childhood’s past.

Collections sought after by previous generations will change in desirability as the consumer base changes in age. wealth, priorities and interests.

Can we manipulate the interests of the collecting consumer?

Yes, we can, but only somewhat. Employing media based ideas such as celebrity endorsements or other such manipulations will end with mixed results, some positive, some negative, some with no effects at all.

Dealers need to adapt, change, and bend with the trends. Survival of the most adaptable and most flexible, and those willing to twist, turn, manipulate and add to their knowledge.

We should all strive to be Transformers.

-Bear @ Fedora Antiques & Collectibles

(this was initially intended to be a short reply only, but ended up so long it turned out to be a blog post on my blog at http://www.picekrsjournal.blogspot.com)

It’s a personal choice and, of course, dependent upon on which market one works within. For antiques beyond certain price points, production values are obviously going to be important. We are dealing in luxury goods, so of course, it’s important.

Generally speaking, people aspire to own things which are beautiful and time-less as well as reflective of the value of quality. From my own experience, it’s one of the strongest selling points we have. Excellent visual aesthetics add great support to, as well as reflect the material we handle. Of course, this is my own experience and opinion. I am sure that others feel differently.

The question is what happens when everyone then sells plastic transformers? I think we’ve all experienced this over the past decade as trends blew though the marketplace. Is this ALL about marketing, no? There is a balance. Unfortunately, the selling of anything, whether it is women’s sunglasses ….or antiques has been dramatically impacted by the need for close inventory planning as well as strong marketing/branding. Most products require rebranding in order to remain relevant over the years….antiques really are not that different.

Not that huge a difference in terms of #’s there…. and social media ranks quite low.Which is why I am not a huge believer that social media will save the day. I’m not seeing strong enough numbers yet. Do corporations utilize it, yes. The primary use of social media at this point is simply to put a personality behind one’s product.

Of course it’s broken out. Social media marketing efforts would never survey the difference between real friends on-line and on-line friends.

What was most interesting to me was the dramatic influence of magazine articles, which is why I am a proponent of articles on antiques making their way into more mainstream media. Particularly those which speak to beginning collectors. This is an interesting one I found recently and posted in the group, The Business of Antiques on LinkedIn.

It’s an article geared towards the Beginning Contemporary Art Collector and it appeared on-line on the AirTran airlines page. http://www.airtranmagazine.com/features/2011/12/the-artistic-process?mid=541#%2ETtg-eB4T8qg%2Efacebook. I would guess that it also appeared in their print version on their planes.

If one looks at Architectural Digest these days one notices that it is filled with articles, interviews and promo for the largest auction houses. Dealers could be represented there as well in a stronger fashion. In addition, there are numerous publications geared towards younger consumers which could also work.

“According to studies on social media usage, 90% of Generation Y subscribes to at least one social media channel, and 74% of social media users trust peer reviews of products as opposed to only 14% that trust traditional advertising methods. With so much emphasis on peer reviews, analysts conclude that retailers need to build a relationship with their customers to replicate that trust.” http://therecoverytimes.com/?p=491

Millennials do like magazines, so the placement seems wise. Not sure who flies AirTran.

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