Great American Antiquefest! Shows there is Hope for the Antiques & Collectibles Market

Looking at the line of shoppers heading to the Great American Antiquefest!, things might be looking up for the antiques and collectibles market.

Looking at the line of shoppers heading to the Great American Antiquefest!, things might be looking up for the antiques and collectibles market.

In late July I conducted an appraisal clinic at the Great American Antiquefest!, managed by Steve and July Allman (allmanpromotions.com) and held at Long Branch Park in Liverpool, N.Y., just north of Syracuse. Almost six months had passed since I attended a large antiques show, the exception being an occasional visit to the Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market in nearby New Milford, Conn. I keep abreast of the latest trends and developments in the show circuit by talking regularly with collectors, dealers, and others about their experiences at shows.

I was apprehensive about my appearance. The news from the field was mixed. What I discovered was a surprise, a pleasant surprise. The situation is far better than I thought. Good times are returning.

Wares on sale at one of the dealer tents at the Great American Antiquefest!

Wares on sale at one of the dealer tents at the Great American Antiquefest!

Since I was doing a one-day SundThe Great American Antiquefest! is a three-day, Friday-through-Sunday, outdoor show, thus subject to the whims of the weather. Although a few sellers were set up on tarps in the open, the vast majority, 90-percent-plus, were housed in tents—event tents supplied by the Allmans or individual tents they own. It rained on Friday during set up, but a good crowd of early buyers dispelled the gloom. Perfect weather on Saturday and a strong gate added to the show’s success.ay appearance, Linda and I embarked mid-morning Saturday from our home in Brookfield, Conn. with plans to arrive a little before four o’clock at Long Branch Park. I like to walk a show in advance of my appraisal clinic to check out regional price levels, see what type of merchandise is being offered, and identify specialized dealers who might be able to help with an appraisal.

Although the show closed at 5 p.m., the parking lot was more than three-quarters full. Normally, the crowd thins significantly in the final hours of a show. The crowd at the Great American Antiquefest! remained strong until the gates closed. In fact, it took more than half an hour to clear the buyers from the field.

Weather forecasters are just one of the many obstacles antiques and collectibles show promoters face. All afternoon and evening Saturday, local weather people (do not let it be said that I am politically incorrect) on radio and television predicted rain and violent thunderstorms for Sunday. I was worried. Individuals hesitate transporting their family treasures and other items in bad weather. I had visions of wind and rain blowing in around my tent’s side flaps. It happens, I know. It happens every time I go to Brimfield. I stay away so I do not jinx the show. A show is no fun if people do not attend.

The weather forecasters were wrong. The day was bright and sunny, a pleasant breeze adding to the ambiance. Although some people were scared away because of the incorrect forecasts, the crowd was larger than I expected. Attending outdoor antiques and collectibles flea markets and shows is regaining its popularity.

The makeup of the crowd provided the biggest surprise. There were young people. There were plenty of young people, young being 25-40-year-old demographics. Many of these young people were couples, often pushing a baby carriage or with one or more toddlers in tow. The next time someone tells me that the antiques and collectibles field is not attracting young buyers, I am going to tell him he is full of it.

I also was pleased by how many groups I saw, e.g., mother or father and child (especially mother-daughter combinations), mother and father accompanied by older children, groups of three or more friends, etc. All these individuals made the choice to come to the antiques show rather than do any one of a hundred other possible things on such a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. The last day was not a slow day, another good sign.

A child's horse barber chair, one of the thousands of antiques on sale at the Great American Antiquefest!

A child's horse barber chair, one of the thousands of antiques on sale at the Great American Antiquefest!

Buying was brisk. I saw dozens of furniture pieces, from chairs to dressers to shelving, leave the field. All pieces had two things in common—they were room-ready and affordable. Buyers bought pieces ready to be taken home and used. Pieces that required restoration and/or refinishing remained on the field. Selling prices were in the $50 to $350 range. Pieces priced more than $350 moved slowly, if at all. Buyers wanted bargains.

While not everyone who attended made a purchase, more than half did, based on my carry out bag count. Small decorative items sold well, especially when priced below $100.

When I walked the show on Saturday and during my breaks on Sunday, I was delighted to find asking prices adjusted to compete with prices being realized on Internet sale auction sites such as eBay. Field prices—of course there were exceptions—are where they belong. The market has bottomed out. However, as reasonable as I felt the prices were, I was caught off guard by dealers’ willingness to negotiate discounts often far in excess of 10 percent. The need for cash flow provides the best explanation. Dealers must sell to make expenses. As the first decade of the 21 century ends, it definitely is a buyer’s market in antiques and collectibles.

Linda loves jewelry. Much to her delight, the Great American Antiquefest! featured dozens of jewelry dealers; dealers who I would not normally expect to risk their merchandise at an outdoor show. I talked with several. Once again, the opportunity to enhance cash flow was their primary motivation for doing the show. Linda added several pieces to her Victorian-era jewelry collection at prices she believed were too good to ignore.

When I assumed the editorship of “Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices” in the early 1980s, I seldom missed a Renninger’s Extravaganza or Brimfield. It was the Golden/Glorious Age of these markets. High-end antiques dealers still were part of the mix. Younger dealers were offering the latest hot collectibles. There was a continual sense of excitement and buzz.

ask-a-worthologist4The Great American Antiquefest! felt like old times. Several specialized antiques dealers were in attendance. A dealer specializing in early 19th-century English ceramics offered a dark blue, American Historical View, Erie Canal wash basin priced at $1,650. Even though I own several examples, I was tempted. I have two Erie Canal wash pitchers that do not have matching basins. The asking price was identical to what I paid for examples I bought in the late 1970s, early 1980s. I walked away because of my concerns that American Historical View Staffordshire is a graying market, i.e., most of the buyers are 60 or older. In a graying market, values decline rather than increase. The customers in the tent of the specialized cut-glass dealer were at least as old as I am (I am about to turn 68) or older. Lest you misinterpret this, her sales were brisk. A collector’s love only ends with death. The cut-glass dealer and her customers have another 10 good years, perhaps more.

Objects from many traditional colleting categories, e.g., Fiesta, oil lamps, pattern glass, RS Prussia and other late 19th- and early 20th-century ceramics, etc., were conspicuous by their absence. This came as no surprise. The absence of a large quantity of late 1940s and 1950s collectibles, as well as post-1960s modernist pieces did. The former can be explained by the advancing age of the collectors. However, post-1960s modernism is hot, especially with young collectors and decorators. Although modernism is linked with Megalopolis, rumors persist that it has expanded into the countryside. They may be false.

At its peak, the Great American Antiquefest! had close to 500 rented spaces. This year the count was just over 200, albeit several were shared by multiple dealers. The good news is that the Allmans are once again growing the show. As I walked around, I was impressed by the investment dealers made in their tents and display materials, an investment that indicates an expectation that they will be in business for the long-term.

I left the Great American Antiquefest! with a renewed confidence that the antiques and collectibles field was in far better shape than I thought. Much remains to be done before the trade emerges from the current economic crisis. However, it is clear that a great number of individuals in the trade are moving in the right direction.

I would very much like to know your impressions of recently visited indoor or outdoor antiques shows. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or e-mail me at harrylrinker@aol.com. Thanks.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?,” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“SELL, KEEP OR TOSS? HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site: http://www.harryrinker.com

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected letters will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5093 Vera Cruz Road, Emmaus, PA 18049. You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2009

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