Rinker's Opinion: The Future of the Antiques and Collectibles Show Marketplace
inSeptember 3, 2013 - 4:10pm
What does the future hold for the antiques and collectibles show marketplace?
Once a sales venue becomes established in the antiques and collectibles field, it never disappears. While its strength and vitality may swing like a pendulum between good and bad times, the sales venue’s perseveres.
Change is continuous. Today’s sales venues differ from their historical counterparts. In some cases the change is enormous. In other cases, it is minimal.
When the antiques/collectibles mall arrived on the scene, many assumed it was the death knell for the small antiques shop. During a drive through the Connecticut countryside in 2009, I was saddened by the number of shuttered individual antiques shops that I encountered. When I returned to Linda’s and my Brookfield, Connecticut home, I realized I focused too much on the closed shops and not enough on those which still were open. Small shops remained a viable sales venue.
The first consideration when discussing the market strength of antiques and collectibles shows in 2013 is the demise of the purist, vetted, small (30 to 40 dealer) “antiques” show. Prestigious “antiques” such as the Armory Show in New York, the Philadelphia Antiques Show, HADA in Houston, and Hillsboro (to some extent) in San Francisco persist, albeit the dealer merchandise is beyond the pocketbooks of 98 percent of collectors. More than 75 percent of the 30 to 40 dealer shows are gone. Small “antiques” shows which survived did so by including dealers selling 20th century material. Several became “decorator showcase” shows.
There are two types of antiques/collectibles shows—indoor and outdoor. The indoor shows usually take place in fall, winter, or spring. They include between 75 and 300 dealers and are located in a civic or institutional auditorium or convention center. The outdoor shows are summer events, although they occur throughout the year in the southern climes.
[Author’s Aside: Do not confuse an indoor or outdoor antiques and collectibles show with that of an indoor or outdoor collectibles flea market. While an antiques and collectibles show may include some reproductions in addition to antiques and collectibles, it does not include desirables (objects made within the past 25 years), discounted merchandise, craft and food items, and a host of other types of items found at flea markets. There are hybrid flea market/shows. Promoters of these shows keep the various groups of merchandise separated from one another. The groups are comingled in a flea market.]
The antiques and collectibles show marketplace is stable. Show closures are matched by the arrival of new shows. This summer I attended “Antiques at the Fairgrounds” in Petoskey, Michigan, the revival of a show that had been closed for several years. There was a large crowd, and sales were brisk. A feeling of optimism prevailed among dealers and customers.
The antiques and collectibles trade is recovering from the 2008 Great Recession. Antiques show gates are strong. The dealer count is down, meaning more customers per dealer. Promoters continue to worry about the declining dealer base due to health and age, but some are reporting that they now have a waiting list.
Merchandise is affordable. Dealers have priced pieces to sell. Not only is merchandise “cheaper than new” but “cheaper than eBay” as well, a situation realized by the large amount of overpriced “Buy It Now” items.
The lack of new promoters entering the show marketplace and the consolidation of the larger shows are the two areas of most concern. Many of the promoters are in their Sixties or Seventies. The value of the shows is such that their employees are not in a position to buy them. The question is who is? Likewise, the disastrous lessons of the 1990s consolidation appear to have been forgotten. Stella Shows just sold the New York Pier Antiques Show to U.S. Antiques Shows, a division of GLM. Bigger is not necessarily better in the antiques and collectibles business.
The future for antiques and collectibles shows remains bright only as long as promoters and dealers do not get greedy as America’s economic recovery progresses. Promoters need to keep costs down to allow dealers to build on their profit margins. Dealers need to keep prices reasonable to encourage younger customers to buy.
Finally, show promoters and dealers must accept the demise of the collector driven market. Today’s buyers are buying for decorating and reuse reasons. Promoters should encourage dealers to focus on what customers want as opposed to what dealers think customers should buy.
The future is bright. However, maintaining and increasing the intensity of that brightness will require a great deal of hard work.
What is some of your favorite Civil War memorabilia?
I have the E. Remington & Son percussion cap revolver carried by the brother of my great grandfather James Rinker in the Battle of Gettysburg. Several of my great grandfather’s brothers fought in the Civil War. James was the youngest male in the family, too young to go to war. While the revolver is in fair to good condition, its family value transcends its collecting value in my mind.
Although I do not consider myself a Civil War collector, I have a number of Civil War items. I own several civil war letters, although their content is ordinary. Other paper ephemera include prints and books carried by service men. I have several uniform accoutrements, including a belt, sling, and cartridge box. I own three Civil War swords, one of which is a musician’s sword. All my Civil War memorabilia is from the Union Army and its associated state militia, not surprising since I grew up in Pennsylvania.
As an appraiser and conductor of appraisal clinics, I see a great deal of Civil War material, less today than 10 years ago. Weapons are the most common. Discharge papers and G.A. R. (Grand Army of the Republic) material are a close second.
Value and favorite are not synonymous for me. I saw the piece of Civil War material that most resonates in my mind on a street corner in Phoenix, Arizona approximately 15 years ago. An appraisal clinic attendee told me she had a Civil War handwritten document at home that she did not bring to the clinic. After describing it, I said that I would love to see it. We made arrangements to meet at the corner of a shopping center parking lot located between the clinic location and my hotel. When she arrived she handed me five folded sheets of “legal” size paper. One them was an account by a Confederate cavalry officer recounting the battles he fought with Union troops during the ten days leading up to the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. The account was detailed and vivid, one of the best Civil War content pieces I ever handled. It is rare that I covet, but this was one of those times. I encouraged the owner to make copies and send them to southern libraries with Civil War collections, especially those in the Vicksburg area. Like so many objects I encountered in my career, this object passed in and out of my hands in a matter of minutes. I have no idea if the woman took my advice or not.
Today’s attic is more likely to be filled with World War II or Vietnam Era rather than Civil War memorabilia. It is no surprise how little “new” material the 150th anniversary of the Civil War has revealed. It was more fun living through the 100th anniversary.
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