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Sparks of life for brown furniture
By Eric C. Rodenberg

DESTIN, Fla. – Charles Green has a message for the “naysayers” within the antiques industry: The antique market remains strong and viable; if your shop or online business is not thriving, you’re not presenting to the public what it wants to buy.

Green, as director of the Asheford Institute of Antiques in the Panhandle of northwest Florida, maintains he has an appreciable amount of data indicating that the public is still very interested in collecting and decorating with antiques. As director of the academic enterprise created by his father, Peter C. Green, in 1966, he has maintained a close relationship with many of the more than 150,000 graduates who have matriculated from the school during the past half-century.

The Asheford Program consists of more than 120 classroom credit hours, including an accredited instructional curriculum involving the study of antiques, vintage items, collectibles, estate sale liquidations and professional-level appraising services. The program, which went online in 2015, may be completed between eight and 12 months, although coursework up to four years is available.

“The antique industry is quite different from the 1980s,” Green says. “But, today, the naysayers refuse to accept the fact that things have changed, and that they need to change with the times to be successful.”

Each year, the Institute releases an informal survey among current students and past graduates who work within the antiques, collectibles and vintage marketplaces throughout the United States and Canada (both urban and rural areas). Traffic on the Institute’s website spikes each January after the survey is posted, according to Green.

“A lot of dealers and other people in the industry look to us as something of a bellwether as to what’s selling – and what isn’t,” Green says.

The focus of the survey is directed toward interest in current market trends, conducted by the research staff at the Asheford Institute, from January to December of 2019. The survey, informal in nature, does not use any standardized or measurable scientific practices or criteria in obtaining results. However, it is very informative as to what antique entrepreneurs are experiencing throughout North America.

Among the survey’s findings are:

Mid-Century Modern, although still “hot,” despite slipping a “notch or two,” is still by and large the biggest hit with the decorative arts category. Once primarily, the domain of furniture aficionados, MCM has spread to all areas of the collecting marketplace including kitchenware, objects d’art, jewelry and even paintings and sculptures. Aside from classic designers such as Gehry, Jacobsen and Eames, many lesser known names have also become popular, including diamond metal work chairs by Harry Bertoia, cone-chairs by Verner Panton and knock-off chaise loungers from Charlotte Perriand have all skyrocketed in value.

Textiles “is the biggest single move we’ve seen in one year,” the survey acclaims. “Vintage clothing … has exploded all over the world … Vintage jeans, sneakers and outerwear are leading the pack, but high-end dresses and hand-bags are close behind. Dealers who are incorporating this into their stock with other vintage and antique items are reporting exceptionally strong sales. Dresses and gowns from American designer James Galanos, whose high-end work matched the best of Europe’s elite couture are examples of pieces that can command handsome sums, with many dealers reporting a three-fold increase in price and demand over the last year.”

NASA’s recent 50-year commemoration of the moon landing launched virtually every space collectible into orbit last summer. Many dealers reported massive mark-ups on selected items, especially those that had a direct connection to the actual mission; including photos, posters, signatures and toys. Also, along for this ride to the stars, were Star Wars and Star Trek collectibles and other forms of sci-fi memorabilia – especially items related to rocket ships.

Costume Jewelry, now nearly a perennial favorite, the survey results indicates demand for good vintage and antique costume jewelry remains high, while supplies are cited as “scarce,” resulting in strong overall prices. Designer names such as Bogoff, Barcley and Trifari are all in high demand by dealers and buyers alike, with even lesser-known marquee designers such as Haskell, Carnegie, Florenza, Kramer and Coventry commanding more interest and strong prices.

Toys – another perennial favorite continues its rise in price and interest, as younger dealers are investing heavily in the toys of their youth. Popular this year were many Marvel Comic-related items and figures, which saw hefty increases in value due, in large part, to accompanying movie releases. Near the top of the list were items from the 1960s through the 1990s, such as original in-box Super-Soaker Guns, GI Joe sets, Batman action figures and anything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Vinyl Records – for the first time in decades, the survey noted, vinyl records “actually outsold CDs, as collectors clamored for rare examples of original presses.” Prime examples from The Beatles White Album, anything Elvis Presley, the Sex Pistols and Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album topped the charts for many collectors this year. Original pristine album jackets are a must for top prices.

“Aside from textiles, no other traditional category has made such a dramatic move up the charts this past year than items from the Victorian era,” according to the survey. Dealers and East Coast pickers are reporting that cash-poor millennials are snapping up cheaply priced Victorian pieces as an alternative to buying new, and with an eye to helping the environment. “Elder statesmen of the antiques and vintage trade seem to concur with younger dealers that Victorian era furniture may once again be on the rise,” according to the survey. Leading the charge were drop-leaf tables, bookshelves, bookcases, what-nots, hutches, washstands, chests-of-drawers and chairs, with dealers also noting that quirky pieces and decorative items were also starting to sell. Victorian mirrors and paintings are also seeing an upswing, according to the survey.

Lighting – “Moving way up the charts from last year, dealers in this category reported strong sales in virtually every era for lighting,” the survey reported. “Desk models, floor lamps, table lamps and even chandeliers all posted strong sales,” according to survey respondents. While MCM styles were prevalent in popularity, dealers indicated the late Victorian-inspired pieces were also moving well.

Automobilia/Petrolina – Once again demand, particularly of top-shelf inventory, is outstripping supply. Antique and vintage dealers report that sales in this category continues to show sustained growth with competition among dealers for the “best of the best” from auto emblems and signage, to oil cans and gas pumps remains tight as prices are expected to continue to rise. Baby-boomers continue to prop-up prices in this category with the sale of ancillary items, such as road maps, license plates and promotional clocks and automotive decals.

Western Collectibles are still a hot item among the decorative arts market during the past three years with interest spreading beyond the traditional geographic boundaries of the United States. “Cowboy art of any kind showed and sold well in many galleries, as did photos of gold rush scenes, famous gunslingers and old Western towns.

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