The Antiques Market

Fellow appraisers Rosalie and Marcus Wardell sent me a snapshot of the current antiques market from artnet analytics. Much is already know by appraisers and collectors, but this is a good, short synopsis of the marketplace which appraisers could use in their appraisal reports for the general content on the antiques market.

artnet analytic reports

A home filled with antiques was once considered the epitome of great taste and the signifier of an impressive collector. Yet now former antiques showrooms stand empty while fairs like the Winter Antiques Show and SOFA have shifted focus to include contemporary pieces. What happened?

This once-booming market has most definitely cooled. Although it’s a challenging time for many dealers, it’s an exceptional period of opportunity for buyers. Could the antiques market be ready for a renewal, or can we expect a downward trajectory to continue? We turned to the artnet Price Database and spoke to experts to find out.

“The internet revolution has made antiques seem old fashioned,” says Daniel Stein, veteran dealer and owner of Daniel Stein Antiques in San Francisco. He points to the fact that much of the new wealth generated over the last 20 years has been by young entrepreneurs, and their taste skews decidedly minimal—a far cry from the highly decorative aesthetic of previous generations. In online antique marketplaces such as 1stdibs, contemporary design is the fastest-growing category and accounts for over 15% of total sales.

There are few examples of pieces that still hold appeal in the same way they did in the 1990s, when Baby Boomers were furnishing their homes. While traditional home and office furnishings—such as desks, bookcases, and dining room furniture—used to be solid and steady winners, these days small and quirky objects are what’s in vogue. Daniel Stein shares that recently “a seasoned professional commented to me, ‘twice the size, half the price.’”

By some estimates, antique furniture has decreased by 45% in total value over the past 15 years. Once-hot commodities struggle to find buyers and, when they do manage to sell, can see up to a 70% drop in price.

Examples of this phenomenon abound: when an elegant Louis XV side table was offered at Christie’s London in 2016, it sold for the not-insignificant sum of $93,750. But this pales in comparison to the six-figure prices similar pieces achieved just 10 years prior—or the similar-sized Louis XV marquetry table that fetched $2.5 million at Christie’s New York in 2000.

That being said, if you’re looking to acquire some statement Georgian furniture, you are in luck. Strong works are now available in the range of $3,000–5,000, or even lower. What was once an $8,000 eight-piece set of George III dining chairs could be purchased for less than $500 today. Simply put: it’s the best time in decades to be a buyer.

Though the antiques sector has shrunk, the very top of the market remains highly active. This has been buoyed by growing international wealth and an appetite for Western antiques developed among some of the ultrarich in the Middle East and Asia.

Unique and very high-end pieces have proven to hold their value. In response to dwindling demand, major auction houses became stricter in an effort to limit their inventory to museum-quality works. In 2015, we saw that strategy take effect at a landmark Christie’s New York sale, which included a George II mahogany armchair blow past its $80,000 high estimate to sell for $437,000.

Though there are few signs of a turnaround, some experts argue that, as with all trends, it's only a matter of time until the pendulum swings back in the other direction—though no one can say when. If you’re interested in entering in the antiques market, it’s best to proceed with as much information as possible. Commission an artnet Analytics Report by emailing us to speak to an expert about your needs, and be sure to subscribe to the artnet Price Database Decorative Art.
Source: artnet analytics

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