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An article from The Economist explains the poor antiques market

Why the bottom has dropped out of the antiques market
Dec 19th 2015 | PARIS |

A MINUTE’S walk from the Louvre museum, just a hop across the Rue de Rivoli, is an antiques centre called the Louvre des Antiquaires. Until recently hundreds of dealers had galleries here, selling Louis XVI chairs, Renaissance jewels and other delightful old objects to customers keen to own a piece of history. Today only about half a dozen shops remain open. The building’s owner plans to turn the space into a high-end fashion store.

Shops selling furniture that has passed the century mark—the generally accepted definition of an antique—are closing on both sides of the Atlantic. Fulham Road in London used to have so many stores selling old wood furniture that it was known as the “brown mile”. Today all but three have closed. Bermondsey Market and Portobello Road, two other well-known stomping grounds for antique-hunters, are suffering, too. Last year Kentshire Galleries, a long-established antiques firm in New York City, sold its eight-storey gallery downtown and put its furniture up for auction at Sotheby’s. The owners, the third generation to run the business, have decided to move out of antique furniture and focus on fine jewellery instead. Bonham’s, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, three big auction houses, have all cut back on antique furniture to focus on what they see now as bigger moneymakers: contemporary art, jewellery and wine.

High rent is one problem for antique-sellers. But the other, much bigger issue is falling demand. Buyers are much less interested in antiques than they were even a decade ago. As a result prices for many different types, especially mid-range “brown furniture”, have slumped by as much as half. Nineteenth-century chairs can be cheaper than equivalents from stores such as Restoration Hardware or bespoke reproductions, says Daniel Stein, a former lawyer who sells antiques in San Francisco. But even lower prices have not drawn buyers back in. “Do I think antiques are going to come back?” asks Mr Stein. “Not in my lifetime.”

The desire to live in the presence of history has ebbed and flowed. In ancient Rome the elite sought out Greek bronzes, sculptures and vases; some cunning merchants tried to make new ones look older and boost their price. Collecting antiquities was also popular with the aristocracy during the Renaissance, and became even more so when young upper-class European men started to do the Grand Tour in the late 17th century. As they travelled across the continent many built up collections of antiques. “I am far gone in medals, lamps, idols, prints, etc.,” wrote Horace Walpole, the son of Robert Walpole, at the time Britain’s prime minister, in a letter home from Rome in 1740; “I would buy the Coliseum if I could.”

Antique furniture went mainstream in Europe in the second half of the 19th century, as the bourgeoisie found themselves with more disposable income and developed a desire to invest in their homes. The antique trade boomed in Paris and London. By 1890 Paris had 300 antique shops, up from 25 around 1850, says Manuel Charpy, a historian. But antiques, like clothes, go in and out of style. They boomed again in the 1950s and 1980s, when “period rooms” in a single nostalgic style were all the rage.

For a long time antique-buyers believed that scarcity meant that the value of old furniture would rise, or at least hold steady. They perhaps underestimated the capriciousness of taste. Today fashionable homes look like hotels: pale sofas, soft rugs, stark lines. Their owners prize comfort more than age. Home magazines and interior decorators drive trends in architecture and art. Many successful decorators sell furniture lines, and therefore have a financial incentive to suggest new items. Appreciating antiques, and knowing what to buy and at what price, takes study and training that few people have.

Dealers complain that time-pressed young buyers show little interest in past eras. Television programmes such as “Antiques Roadshow”, where octogenarians find out how much the contents of their attics are worth, reinforce the perception that antiques are for oldies. Modern living means some items of furniture have lost their usefulness. Armoires, which used to be pressed into service as a place to hide televisions, are little use now that flat-screens can be hung on walls. Large items do not appeal to owners of small homes, especially apartments. Simon Myers, an English dealer based in Yorkshire who is the fourth generation to run his firm, says he used to stock lots of dining tables and chairs but no longer does, because young people do not entertain as they used to, and many do not have dining rooms. People do not want period rooms, no matter how much money they have, says Bunny Williams, an American interior designer. “Everyone lives a more casual life.”

The antiques that still sell well are original, one-off items that convey a sense of character. The top tier has held up best. Nicolas Kugel, a Parisian dealer, has a gallery on the Left Bank facing the Seine, on the same side of the street as the Musée d’Orsay. Tourists are unlikely to chance upon its unmarked entrance, but elite buyers know where it is. Inside it looks like a palace transformed into a museum, with everything for sale. No prices are displayed. Mr Kugel says that his clients, who come from all over the world, are still buying. They see antiques “as an undervalued piece of art”.

High-end antiques may be crafted as carefully as fine artworks, and priced as steeply, but buyers may not enjoy the same social pay-off. According to Benjamin Steinitz, a Parisian dealer in fine antiques: “If you have a Picasso or Jeff Koons everyone knows what it is and that you’re a success. If you have a lovely André-Charles Boulle desk, people may think you have the taste of your grandmother.” Mr Steinitz in fact has a desk attributed to Boulle, who crafted furniture for Louis XIV at Versailles, for sale for €6m ($6.4m). Few people, if they saw it in a home, would recognise its rarity and value.

Mid-range antiques have been squeezed especially hard because there is so much supply and diminished demand. Companies used to buy antiques for their offices, but today favour a modern look. Mr Stein, the San Francisco dealer, says that when he started out he had doctors and lawyers as customers. “The business I do now is almost exclusively with the one-tenth of one percent of people. It’s not because my stuff is so expensive. It is because the middle market is gone.”

“Mad Men” has helped push the slick, minimalist aesthetic of mid-century modern furniture into the mainstream
Baby-boomers are downsizing, while their own parents are dying and leaving them their old furniture. But their own children have no interest in it. Many of those who go to antique shows are not looking to buy, but to gauge how much their own antiques are worth. Some have shifted to mid-century modern furniture. “Mad Men”, a television show, has helped push that era’s slick, minimalist aesthetic into the mainstream, says David Rosenblatt, the boss of 1stdibs, an online marketplace for antique and vintage furniture. Prices for mid-century designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Paul Evans and Jean-Michel Frank have soared. A pair of small Frank tables were recently spotted in New York with an asking price of around $400,000. Ken Bolan, who used to sell antiques in London but has switched to mid-century furniture, says prices have quadrupled in the past decade. Antique dealers scoff that mid-century is bound to go out of fashion. Prices do feel bubbly, given that much of it was mass-produced.

Chinese antiques are a rare bright spot. After decades in which celebration of their nation’s cultural heritage was suppressed, well-heeled Chinese customers are now snapping up pieces that connect them with their past, almost always buying them back from Westerners. Prices for the best pieces of Chinese furniture are at least ten times higher than a decade ago, says Nick Wilson, a China specialist at Christie’s, and furniture has risen more than any category of Chinese art in the past five years. Demand for tables and chairs made of zitan and huanghuali, two rare woods, is especially strong.

Many of the companies that are struggling are family businesses, where each generation did an apprenticeship before taking over. Most of those who survive own their own premises, insulating them from rising rent. The antiques trade requires a lot of space for storage and retail: an item may have to be held for a decade before the right buyer comes along.

Dealers used to bring a good eye and even better connections. They would drive to estates their customers did not know about to inspect pieces and drive hard bargains. But, as in so many sectors, the internet has lessened the role of intermediaries. The average distance between buyers and sellers using 1stdibs is around 2,100 miles. Some dealers are trying to survive by closing their shops, offering viewings by appointment only and selling exclusively online. But hundreds of auctions take place every month on sites such as Bidsquare, Invaluable and LiveAuctioneers, and you do not need to be a professional to take part.

It can be harder for customers to spot true quality online—and fraudsters find it easier to flourish. But buyers who take care should be able to find tremendous bargains. Items in good condition from a given era will only become rarer as time progresses—and may come back in style. Colin Stair, who runs an auction house in Hudson, New York, hopes that today’s youngsters, who are much more socially conscious, will wake up to the appeal of buying something that exists already and is handcrafted from high-quality wood, rather than something that requires a new tree to be cut down and may have been manufactured in poor working conditions.

Social justice has not traditionally been one of antiques’ selling points, but trends and thinking change from generation to generation—as dealers know well. It would be a shame if people did not find their way back to objects that embody past tastes and times. Antiques remind us of who we are and where we have been.

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Everything But the House, including the Horse

DSC_4486_skyI don’t sell advertising on this blog, but I occasionally mention businesses that help clients dispose of their inherited stuff. Mike Gadd wrote in to tell me about his business, named Everything But the House, that does just that–sells everything except their clients’ houses. And they mean everything! Last year they sold a horse. https://www.ebth.com/items/1447139-appendix-horse-gelding-named-blackie

The company, known as EBTH for short, has a presence in Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Lexington and Louisville KY, and Nashville. Their website indicates new offices opening soon in Atlanta and southwest Florida. This is not a recommendation, since I have not dealt with them myself, but it may be worth taking a look.

Guidelines from a Frequent Reader

Here’s some advice–good advice!–from Tischa, who has been working for months to deal with the items she inherited from her parents. Thanks for sharing. 

A lot has to do with the tremendous respect & love I had for my parents. I’ve had a wonderful life full of fabulous experiences all because of them. [And had I tossed things in the trash, I would have imagined my mother over my shoulder yelling, “Oh, no!” lol]

I know most people don’t have as many collectibles/vintage items, but if they do, here’s what I’ve learned:
Children should sit down with their folks and make sure all photographs are labeled. (Parents love to share the memories that go along with the photos.)
If there are a lot of items in the estate, a complete inventory needs to be made while a parent is living and receipts kept together with the inventory list.
Wills need to be very, very specific — no assumptions.
In-laws need to stay home when children are working things out.
When a parent dies, the 1st & easiest place to start is to throw away the underwear and send all the clothes to Salvation Army.
Somewhere, someone might want something that has no value to the heirs. DONATE.
(and saving the most important for last…) Don’t leave this same project behind for your children to go through when you die. [I have 2 sons who won’t want most of my things; so, I’m going to sell things I no longer use — silver, china, jewelry, etc — and give my boys whatever money I get from it.]

Services help Seniors Move . . . and get rid of Stuff

A relevant article from the Dallas Morning News by Pamela Yip:

Most of us hate moving. The hassles of organizing, packing and finally schlepping the entire haul to a new place is a pain.
For seniors, the experience can be not only a major life disruption but an emotionally painful one as they leave a home where they’ve raised children and created cherished memories, many of which are tied up in their belongings.
Seniors and their families can get help by hiring a senior move manager who specializes in helping older adults and their families downsize and move to a new residence.
Traditional “movers move things and senior move managers move people,” said Jennifer Pickett, associate executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.
“A mover that comes in, they do one thing: They estimate, they pack, they load, they unpack. A senior move manager helps them downsize, helps them go through the process of parting with their possessions without parting with their memories,” she said.
The relatively new industry has grown “pretty significantly” in recent years, Pickett said.
“We have 850 members in the U.S., Canada and abroad,” she said. “Two years ago, it was probably 600 and three years before that, it was probably 400.”
Betty Clo Jarrell of Dallas turned to Senior Focused Relocations Inc. to help her move to a senior community from the home she shared with her now-deceased husband for 13 years.
Jarrell said she was impressed with the attention the senior move manager gave her.
“Someone comes in and talks to you about what you want to do,” she said. “They’re totally involved in what the client wants.”
Jarrell’s most treasured possessions are photos of family and friends.
“The most emotional things to me are my pictures of family,” said Jarrell, sitting on a couch in her living room while the movers packed her belongings. “What I’m not taking are pictures of me. I know what I look like.”
Michele Parchman, co-founder of Dallas-based Senior Focused Relocations, said that after hearing how important the photos were to Jarrell, one of her movers allocated a place for them to hang in her new apartment.
“Every client has a most treasured item or collection,” Parchman said. “We absolutely take the time to listen to their history and stories. We are focused on making our clients’ transition a manageable task by pacing the process to allow time for reminiscing.”
As with any service, you come out better if you do your homework before selecting a senior move manager. Here are questions to ask:
How long have they been in business?
“Ask what kind of training they’ve had,” Pickett said. “A designation is not necessarily a training.”
Also ask whether the senior move manager who will be working with you is an employee of the company or a contractor.
“Who will be doing the packing of your items? Who will be loading and unloading the moving truck? Who will be working in your home? Hire a company that trains their employees to understand the transition you are about to go through,” Parchman said.
Ask for references.
Does the company carry insurance?
“I would make sure they are fully insured and their employees have workers’ compensation coverage,” Pickett said.
Ask who’s responsible if one company packs your items, another company moves the packed boxes and furniture, and then damage is discovered during the unpacking, Parchman said. “Hire a senior move manager that is also a licensed moving company,” she said. “That way, you are protected from start to finish. Otherwise there are gaps and the only person who loses is the senior.”
How much does the company charge?
“Most senior move managers charge by the hour,” Pickett said. “If they charge by the project, that could be a little tricky because inevitably things come up that you’re not expecting.”
The national average is $40 to $60 an hour, she said.
“Make sure they provide you with a written contract,” Pickett said. “I would make sure that contract has a liability policy.”
Are they a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers?
“All of our members have been vetted,” Pickett said. “There is very little barrier to entry into this type of service, and we are keenly aware of this.”
Before a company can be listed on the association’s website, it has to show proof of insurance and has to have two letters of recommendation from senior clients it has moved.
“You have to take our classes in senior move management ethics and accountability and safety, and you have to have a website that highlights your services,” Pickett said.
Other things you can do to make the process go smoothly:
Interview more than one senior move manager.
“This is very much a relationship-based service,” Pickett said. “We joke about this, but when was the last time I was in my father’s underwear drawer? You really have to have a sense of trust, and you have to feel good about that person. You need to follow your gut.”
Lue Taff, a geriatric care manager at The Senior Source, said she asks one key question.
“The one question I always ask anyone I’m considering for any kind of service is, what makes you unique?” said Taff. “If they have someone devoted to really establishing a bond with the family, with my mom, that would make them a standout company to me. I just want them to go the extra mile and do the extra thing for my mom.”
Leave plenty of time.
“Contact a senior move manager three to four weeks before move day,” Parchman said. “Allow time for making all the decisions about what will move with you, what you will give to the kids, what will be sold at an estate sale, and what you want to donate to charity.
“Take the time to plan the details so you have the comfort of being involved, making the move to a retirement community or smaller home happen for you, not to you.”
Follow Pamela Yip on Twitter at @pamelayip.
Learn more
For more information on senior move managers, go the website of the National Association of Senior Move Managers at nasmm.org.

http://www.dallasnews.com/business/columnists/pamela-yip/20140613-firms-specialize-in-helping-older-adults-into-new-homes.ece

Should you bother with online appraisals?

antiques-booth-3Possibly.

If you have exhausted your patience with do-it-youself appraisals (by looking for similar items that have sold on eBay, craigslist, liveauctioneers.com, worthpoint.com, and other free sites), and you aren’t willing to hire a human being to come to your home and examine your object, it may be time to pay for an on-line appraisal. These are cheap and, because the appraisers cannot examine the object except through a photograph and your (possibly inaccurate) description, not as reliable as the real thing, but they can help if you are just trying to get a general idea of an item’s value.

There are many on-line appraisal services you can use. Reputable ones include Kovels, at http://www.kovels.com, where you can have a free subscription and get some information and access to price guides, or pay $3.25 a month or $5.00 a month for access to more information.

Another site is http://www.valuemystuff.com. You send them a picture and $10 and they have an appraiser give you a value. Costs are lower if you have 3 or 10 or more items you want appraised. 

Another site is http://www.worthpoint.com. Here you can have a free membership for 7 days, so what’s to lose? Or pay $30 for one item’s appraisal or sign on for  $20/month for unlimited access to their databases. 

 

Did you see. . . ?

IMG_0862. . . the op-ed New York Times piece (Feb. 16, 2014) by Olivia Judson titled “Home Dismantled?” It pertains directly to my book, STUFF AFTER DEATH. Many of us will empathize with Ms. Judson, who is overcome with problems trying to sift through the lifetime of belongings that her parents left in their house after their deaths. And she has it worse than many of us, because her parents seldom threw anything out. As a child, she remembered moving into the house in Baltimore, a house that “gradually filled up.. . . Every so often, my father would say, ‘We must have a yard sale,’ but the yard sale never happened.”

How unusual is this? Not at all.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/home-dismantled/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

get_rid_of_the_oldiesWrites Ms. Judson, “I never agreed with the idea that personality is defined by objects; I would rather say that objects are defined by personality. Yet when someone is dead and belongings are all that is left, dispersing those belongings feels like an erasing of that person’s physical presence on the earth.” I understand completely. Many of you understand. It can be agonizing to dispose of a loved one’s accumulated belongings. But it has to be done. I wish I could have contacted this Olivia Judson person and offered her my book as a modest bit of help. It wouldn’t have solved all her problems. But it would have helped.

How to Wash a Dirty Old Quilt

DSC07097While we’re on the subject of washing old textiles, here’s some information about how to was that old quilt you have inherited.

Textile curators and dealers in antique quilts invariably say, “Don’t wash it!” A dry cleaner will probably refuse, and that’s a good thing because the fluids used would likely do serious damage. Not washing quilts may be excellent advice for museums and people who own rare and valuable specimens, but in the everyday world, quilts can come out of attics, garages, basements, car trunks, and sick beds. They can bear mysterious stains, foul odors, and suspicious animal hairs. They need more than a good shake before they can be brought home and spread over the guest room bed.

Here’s what you can do with dirty quilts that are not “museum quality.” Be forewarned that wet washing may cause the colors to fade or bleed. But frankly, I’d take a clean, slightly faded quilt over a soiled one any day.hide & go seek quilt 1

  1. First check both sides of the quilt for tears or holes; repair those with a needle and cotton thread.
  2. Remove any rings and watches you may be wearing which could snag the fabric.
  3. Place the quilt in a top-loading washing machine and set the dial to large load and warm water. Add a small amount of mild detergent like Ivory Soap Flakes, Ivory Snow liquid, or Dreft, perhaps half of what you would normally use for a load that size. Do not add bleach!
  4. Fill the washing machine with water and stop it before it begins to agitate. With your hands, gently squish the quilt up and down in the water for several minutes. Let it soak for a few minutes and squish again.
  5. Turn the dial to the spin cycle and spin. Let the machine fill up with clean water for the rinse cycle. Again, do not allow the machine to agitate. Stop the machine and squish the quilt around in the clean water by hand.
  6. If the quilt was extremely dirty, you may wish to repeat the wash and rinse cycle, letting the quilt soak a while before rinsing.
  7. Run the rinse cycle a final time.
  8. Spread a clean sheet that is larger than the quilt on the ground outside in a shady spot away from direct sun. Handle the wet quilt carefully because the weight of the water makes the fabric very fragile . . . two people are better than one. Lay it on the sheet, pattern side down, and spread it gently to dry. Don’t even think about hanging it on a clothesline, draping it over a fence, or putting it in the dryer!
  9. Check every hour or so. Bring inside when thoroughly dry. Spread it over a bed for a day or two before folding to make certain it is completely dry.
  10. Do  not fold on existing crease lines.

 

The Smart Collector: Danielle Arnet

paintings 006I read this column in the newspaper by Danielle Arnet, who styles herself the Smart Collector, and thought I’d share it. Why? Because she gives the same suggestion I always give about fine art, so of course I think she’s right!! 

I suggest on start to research with a google search for the artist [name]. Sometimes works for sale pop up. Next, to get an inkling of sale activity and prices, run a free search on eBay and liveauctioneers.com. Since determining potential value calls for accessing a sales record, then pay for short-term use of worthpoint.com and artnet.com. That’s how smart collectors access past sales and auction results.  Excellent advice for those who have inherited original works of art–paintings, sculpture, signed prints, and such. 

 

 

Are Any Old Handbags Valuable?

pursesJust about every estate will have some used handbags and evening bags. If you find designer handbags of recent vintage, great! You can sell them online and actually get a good price for them on eBay, Craigslist, or other sites. Nantucket basket purses and evening bags, old or new, usually hold their value. Old ones can be sold to vintage clothing stores. 122092_1_1

Apart from those, used handbags have virtually no value. Your best bet is to donate to Goodwill or the equivalent.

School Yearbooks–Any Value?

461

It would be no surprise to come across a collection of high school and college yearbooks when working through an inherited estate. Rather than throw them out, consider reuniting them with their school. 

     Most colleges and universities are delighted to have old yearbooks donated. Graduates whose original copies have been lost or destroyed sometimes ask for replacements and are grateful when the school can comply. And it could be that the college was lacking that particular year, or had very few copies and wanted more. It doesn’t take a moment to email the school’s development office to find out.

     Private high schools, prep schools, and boarding schools fall into this category too. Public high schools are seldom equipped to accept or store old yearbooks, but you could inquire.

     I was looking through my father’s very old college yearbooks from the U.S.M.A. at West Point this weekend. Some had belonged to his ancestors and were passed down through the generations. The oldest ones date from the mid-1800s, are leather-bound, enormous, and weigh a ton. He’s planning to donate them to West Point’s museum. Most yearbooks aren’t that old, but you never know what you’ll find.