Old Stuff, New Profits: Why the Antique Market Is Heating Up

An expert explains what's driving demand for antiques and the best ways to benefit from this growth

It’s a great time for antiques collectors, experts say. New global wealth is spurring growth in the number of collectors. At the same time, concern over potential inflation from currency debasement is leading some investors to consider antiques as stores of value.

Plus, older collectors are liquidating their collections, bringing valuable items to market, according to Eric Bradley, editor and content director of Antique Trader Magazine and AntiqueTrader.com. Internet sites and television shows about antiques abound, as well, helping to spark interest, he notes.

“There’s a very diverse set of reasons drawing a lot of attention to the antiques and collectibles market now," said Bradley (left) in an interview with AdvisorOne. “It’s a very unique opportunity at this particular time in our history to purchase very rare and valuable items. We expect to see that demand will only rise as global wealth increases.”

One reason antiques are so popular is that the category’s definition is extremely broad. Bradley points to a federal government trade law that defines an antique as an item over 100 years old.

But collectors have adopted more flexible guidelines, he says, for newer items, such as those from the first half of the 20th Century. Objects from those years are typically described as vintage or collectible.

“A lot of people will also use the word ‘antique’ to describe pieces that were made in the ‘20s and, we’re generally OK with that,” he explained. “As long as people have an understanding that what they’re buying is not contemporary and that it’s old. We mainly focus on describing the pieces themselves not necessarily what the best [methods] are to classify them.”

Another factor driving interest in these objects is the broad range of collectible items, which includes furniture, art, coins, photographs, etc.

Collectors with a passion for a category probably can find a market, Bradley observes: “You’ll see people pursue New England nautical antiques, and that can range from everything from quality weathervanes, which might not be nautical in purpose but nautical in motif and decoration,” he shared.

“You might find, for instance, people who have a passion for Stickley furniture and focus on the pieces that came out of their New York State workshop,” Bradley continued. “Or, you might people that like to pursue western art, which is a very hot and rising category right now and those pieces were produced by a famous artist active in the American Southwest and the American West, California and Washington State and so forth.”

Antiques Vs. Kitsch

How can your clients buy investment-worthy items and avoid flea-market kitsch?

Bradley offers several guidelines:

  • Look for markets and items with multinational demand
  • Scarcity drives prices, so seek items that have a sense of scarcity
  • Focus on quality and condition
  • Find markets and items where there has been exposure, which in turn creates awareness and builds buyer interest. This can include items that have the subject of a museum exhibition or have gotten some level of publicity.
  • Be aware of provenance, which is the object’s ownership history. Sometimes a famous owner can add value to a piece, although that can change depending on the piece or the owner.
  • Get validation. Make sure that pieces are not fakes, says Bradley. One way to do that is to have an object verified perhaps by a third party, either through an appraisal or through a certification company.

Before delving into the world of antique investing, prospective collector should do some homework to avoid getting ripped off.

“It’s important for the collectors or the investors themselves to search out experts, search out reference guides, books, magazines, manuals and really know their business before they start dropping real dollars,” Bradley stressed.

 

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