How Robust is the American Antique Market – Nuance is needed

In the current issue of Maine Antique Digest Clayton Pennington in his editorial titled Riding a Tailwind cites January in New York and concludes that “…the market is continuing a steady trend upward.” I respect Clayton’s knowledge of the American antique world, and acknowledge his role as a cheerleader. But the social scientist in me wonders about more nuance.


What I mean is that to me, New York in January is the upper end of the market. I bid 5 figures on a painting at Sotheby’s and didn’t come close to purchasing the piece. Yes, there was competition with the big two auction houses, so people in charge thought collectors would find and purchase their wares.  But . . . Does what happens in NYC in January influence or trickle down to other venues? Is New York in January even related to other American markets elsewhere?


In the same issue of MAD an article notes there will be no St. Charles spring show outside
Chicago, in my mind one of the strongest shows in the Midwest for American antiques. And the article points out dealers had good sales at past shows. Was there no waiting list of dealers, what happened?


Nuance. I know of a dealer who has nice pieces who barely made expenses at Nashville in 2019. I hope he did better this year. And another dealer profiled his Nashville experience on Instagram and had no retail sales. His booth was nice looking with fine antiques at reasonable prices. Only two examples and I am hesitant to draw conclusions from such a small sample but . . .


While the top end of the market may be trending upward what about the middle market? Is it the same dealers with few or no sales when MAD reports at shows or is the lack of selling spread around, some dealers at Show A, different Dealers at Show B not selling, and so forth? Speaking only for myself, the top of the market trending well does me no good. I am not buying: I cannot afford the antiques that are “doing well.”


We may never know the true state of the American antique market at any point in time. I merely hope those dealers who I know and like are doing well. But I am more cautious than Clayton about painting with a broad brush.


I welcome your comments, as always.

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