NEW YORK—You couldn’t ask for a better person than Lark Mason to forecast the direction of new collecting trends. As an expert appraiser, author, television personality on the PBS series, The Antiques Roadshow, and founder of iGavel Auctions, the online international network of regional auction salesrooms, Mason’s job is to anticipate trends. Here are his in-the-know predictions.
1. Don’t Break the China
The Chinese economy is tied to the West, which in today’s world is not a good thing. But China does have a rapidly growing group of consumers, of which a portion want to own something from their past. The sheer numbers of buyers in China is staggering and the quantity of material limited—a classic supply and demand equation that will be with us for many more years.
What’s changing now is that the Chinese are becoming more selective and discerning. The frothiness of the market ought to become a bit more subdued and rational with a focus on the universal criteria of collectors: quality and rarity.
2. Fine Art is the 1 Percent
This market is international. One-tenth of the 1 percenters want the best and will pay to get it to fill all those empty walls of all those houses. This market will remain vibrant regardless of downturns in Greece or elsewhere.
3. Jewels and Precious Metals Both Shine
Even in a nasty economy people want things that are pretty and what is better than jewelry, gold, silver, and platinum? And, buying such for yourself or your favorite other has the added advantage of keeping the pragmatic side of a relationship secure and happy, knowing that should everything go bust you can always hock the jewels.
4. Watches and Wine Will Keep Ticking and Bubbling Upwards
Watches appeal to men who otherwise would have nothing to do with the art market. Watches make sense to guys, they are practical. The engineering, appearance, and materials all have value and communicate something to the other members of their particular tribe.
Wine is somewhat similar and, like watches, can be collected in quantity because of the size. Both wine and watches are not limited to a particular age group. We all need to tell time and we all like good food and drink. Raise your glass high, this market is going to continue to keep ticking.
5. Firearms and Militaria Will Go Marching Along
This category, like watches, appeals to men. It’s not a big reach to have a buyer of a top quality modern hunting rifle make the switch to buy a great 19th century Remington. All those outdoors types buying guns means a healthy percentage are going to become collectors. In any market there has to be new blood, and firearms has it. And then there’s the Second Amendment…
6. Old Growth Forests Still Growing
Some of the best value out there is the wonderful old growth woods and other materials used by our forebears to create furniture and other objects prior to the 20th century. The best pieces are catching the attention of buyers, whether made in the United States or elsewhere.
The gradual fall-off of interest in these objects over the past 15 years had more to do with a natural recycling of taste than a rejection of quality. Prices rose, buyers dropped out, new areas were discovered—the cycle goes round and round again. Traditional “antiques”—a word most in the trade want to avoid—are holding their own and being recognized by the astute as a good value.
7. Quality and Condition More Important Than Ever
In categories that are soft or retrenching, only those pieces in tip-top shape and the best quality will be in demand. Even the slowest markets have bright areas, and in those, buyers will always be more interested in pieces that are the best over those that are not.
8. No Place for Lockets and Lace
Think of grandma’s living room. In this case, a baby boomer’s living room filled with priceless stuff handed down that no one else wants. Odds and ends jammed into cabinets, spread across table tops, and filling drawers are about as out as out can be. No one has enough time or energy to fool with this material.
9. Function Trumps Form
The number of collectors of out-of-date and useless gizmos from days of old is burdened by the cries of their partners to “stop dragging that stuff home!” But, in tough economic times when it costs more to lug it around than it costs to purchase it, fewer and fewer people are going to be looking for that old car part. Same with furniture. It has to make sense and have a use. Potty stools are not going to be setting the market afire even if owned by Louis XV.
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