Some Thoughts on the Coronavirus and the American Antique Market

Last month in my blog I talked about the fiscal state of the American antique market. As I write this month’s blog, events are cancelled throughout the nation, ESPN shows reruns on television as does the Golf Channel, even zoos are closed – animals keeping their social distance from us as always but patrons not allowed. We are told anyone over 60 years of age is at risk and to keep our social distance. We do not know, to paraphrase Churchill, if we are at the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end.

What does the virus mean for the American antique market and the pickers, dealers, promoters, and auction houses that inhabit it? Already shows and auctions are postponed or cancelled – good shows and auctions. What will become of Brimfield this spring that supports so many and moves pieces “up the food chain?” I am worried.

Those dealers with deep pockets will probably survive. But others who depend on their acumen and customers for a living and paying the bills, for putting food on the table, may need lines of credit if these can be obtained. Times will be difficult for a while. Does door-to-door picking still exist? Without fairs and fields full of objects, pickers will struggle. Dealers who depend on pickers will struggle. Many dealers no longer have shops. What will they do – open their warehouses and storerooms to customers? What will group shops do?

I hope the various dealer associations truly band together, offering support and even financial assistance to members who because of the virus must quarantine, or lose business and income because of the present state of affairs.

How resilient is the marketplace? I assume Maine Antique Digest and The Bee will have fewer shows and auctions to report for a month or two; they may shrink in size for a while but survive. Perhaps they have articles and other material tucked away, good reading until the virus and its consequences diminishes.

A major problem of course is that almost all collectors of American antiques are over the worrisome age of 60; they are at risk. No problem on Day 2 of the New Hampshire Dealers’ Show. Keeping social distance can be done. But Day 1, surely, I jest? The crowds, the lines? And this excitement is contagious in a positive way. Now the crowds sadly are negative, to be avoided.

Will these difficult times offer any opportunities? Concierge services by dealers, long talks with good customers, helping them find what they seek? Updating mailing lists, improving web sites, a new type of antique show, very small in number of dealers, limited customers at any one time? The art market already is moving to virtual shops and exhibits. Which American antique dealers will move in that direction? You could view an object in a keeping room setting, walk around it, see it from all angles.

Seldom do we know we are living through history but at this moment we do. At the macro level, the American antique world will survive. But I worry about individuals trying to get by. There will be casualties, not too many I can only hope. Those in the business need to hear that collectors such as myself worry for you, care for you. Let us know how we can help.




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