The recent Wall Street Journal article on the prices brown furniture is bringing provided mostly reasons I was already aware of. Until now I have thought of the sea change mostly as a demographics problem. This certainty allowed me to gloss over other important information.
Besides too many people selling, the article offered three X factors to explain the dilemma. They are fakes, high rents and perhaps most importantly “lacking easy access to reputable dealers, more folks are relying on their own instincts to judge antiques at auction houses.”
Most people are too busy making money to have the time needed to learn what you need to know to purchase a valuable asset. When the dealers (who admittedly were not all always helpful and knowledgeable as many of my own purchases stand as testament to- but many were) were removed from the equation, for want of knowledge, it became about aesthetics- decorator value.
Interestingly this has not happened to the art market, speaking specifically about antique art. The reason is perhaps that the what of it and the quality of it is much less subjective. For example, there is no such thing as a “marriage” as far as paintings go (unless you count the frame). Of course there is aesthetic value to paintings, and it influences the value, but at least you are starting with a piece of mostly often certain information- who painted it.
So what’s wrong with decorator value? Let me answer the question with a question. If the only thing that matters is the look of a thing, why does it matter if its old or new? The short answer is it doesn’t, at least not from a typical consumer perspective. You’re left with selling on price relative to a similar new item. Even when talking about items that aren’t technically antiques, you have to provide added value of age, charm, uniqueness, quality of construction to make a distinction. When you do this you’re back in collector realm.
Predicting the future is a difficult proposition, but at some point the industry is going to swing around and make the what and why of utmost importance again or the industry’s will be confined to the attraction of used items and impulse purchases. Or it’ll all be about repurposing.