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‘My Children Do Not Want It’: 6 Reasons Why the Young Don’t Dig Antiques

by Martin Willis (08/02/13).

Do your kids show no interest in taking on your interest in antiques or collectibles? (Photo: Signed pastel drawing of yawning infant by Pat Doyle. It sold for $27on eBay in 2011.)

A phrase that I hear on a weekly basis, when appraising antiques, is troubling: “My children (or grandchildren),” I am told, “want nothing to do with my antiques.” When I was growing up, there were all sorts of people my age enjoying and appreciating antiques, and many of them were planning on getting into the antique business, one way or another.

Now, I want to note, that not all young people have this attitude; it’s just the majority who do. There are still some young people getting into the business, just far fewer. There is a difference between someone working in the business and someone in the business with a passion for it. When my path crosses with those people, I take a moment to talk with them, and I’m also willing to share what I know. When one of these people ask me for advice on what to specialize in, I tell them to figure out what they love, and find out everything they can about it. If they still love it, then that is a good choice.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Checkout Martin’s podcast featuring 8-year-old Prodigy Picker Connor McCrory for proof.

I am an antiques generalist, which means I cover the gamut as much as I can. A generalist needs to know at least a little something about everything that was ever made anywhere up until now. It is daunting to look at it that way, but it’s the truth. One can only become a generalist if he or she lives it for a long time. I also see, just like in the medical field, that newer generations of collectors and antiques enthusiasts are gravitating toward a specialty. There is nothing wrong with that, only that generalist—as a result—are becoming fewer and farther between.

So what is it about being an antique lover? Is there a stigma?

I have talked at great length with several old-time dealers about this subject, as well as some young people, and have come to several thoughts and opinions. It is not just antiques that the younger people seem to have lost interest in, as I hear it about other fields as well. For historical societies, collecting hobbies and other things totally unrelated to antiques, interest by the youngins is way down.

In addition to appreciating the beauty of an antique, to care about it, one often needs an emotional connection with it; something that spurs a memory, whether it is related to a family member, such as “My grandmother used to serve us cookies on china just like that,” or simply a fond remembrance of a certain piece from one’s past. 

Oh, yes, I’d love to have your Depression Glass collection. Not! (Photo: Original Decca 45 rpm of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day.” It sold for $181 on eBay in 2012.)

So, what has changed in the last several years that has muted our children’s interest in past? Please keep in mind, this is an opinion and I am speaking in general terms. There are plenty of exceptions:

1. The advent of the double-edged sword we call the Internet. It has made the world a lot smaller and has put everything at our fingertips. The major change is that you no longer have to see something, touch and handle it, in person, and by the same fashion, we no longer having to leave the house to find out something. Searches can be done from a desk or kitchen table. Social interaction is no longer needed to buy antiques, if you happen to buy that way. This includes auctions, as well. To me, this costs us many of the connections that make a purchase something special. I reflect on my favorite pieces I have bought and all have a story attached to them that includes personal connections. Perhaps someone should do a study of the lost social aspects of antiquing via the Internet. I know that I spend more time on my computer and less time with people than I used to.

2. The dining room. My friend, picker Greg Willett says, “Young people want nothing to do with the dining room.” There are fewer people having formal dinner parties as we remember. Of all the things I hear that children do not want, this follows along with my friend’s saying, especially when it comes to china, stemware and flatware. This goes for dining sets, as well. What belongs in the dining room, in general, are some of the hardest-hit antiques.

3. Emotional connection. We collect things that we connect with emotionally, whether it was “Grandma’s” or something you remember from your past. There is more of a disconnect in our general lives than ever before. I don’t know if it because there are so many broken homes or that people move much more than they ever did, never getting a chance to set down roots. There are fewer generational households, too.

You want me to take your antiques? Seriously? (Photo: Skeptical Wee Miss is Unimpressed Carte de Visite, circa 1860s. It sold for $26.25 on eBay in 2010)

4. Less appreciation for quality? I say this with a question mark, but in general, all society is geared toward new and disposable items.

5. Electronics. Ask almost anyone younger than 30 if they would rather have a tricked-out iPad, or an 18th-century chest of drawers that was hand-crafted with fine inlays. I’m guessing you’d be stuck with chest of drawers.

6. Things became expensive. A lot of what was collected has become out of reach to the young collector. If you can’t get in the door to begin with, why bother? Now, as prices fall into the abyss, it may settle and restart a cycle.

I have no answer on how we can turn things around. I enjoy doing my Antiques Auction Forum podcast, and I like to think that it can bridge help the gap in some small way. I get e-mails from all over the world that are fun to read, and I have made many connections.

I recently received an e-mail from a 14-year-old boy in Georgia who wrote to me to say that my podcast has inspired him to make his career in the antiques business. Whether he will or not, it still gives me a lot of hope.


Martin Willis is Worthologist, auctioneer and director of decorative arts for James D. Julia Auctioneers for the Boston region. You can hear his podcasts at the at Antique and Auction Forum, featuring interviews with key players in the antiques and collectibles trade.

13 Responses to “‘My Children Do Not Want It’: 6 Reasons Why the Young Don’t Dig Antiques”

  1. Bill says:

    I have seen a big gap in the ages of collectors and dealers for a long time. I’m 47, and one of the younger dealers I know.

    I’ve expected to see a pushback from our standardized, throwaway society for a long time. In some areas, such as cool old coffee pots, toasters, and other items that can still be used, I think we will see more interest in “unique” vintage items to use and decorate with. The “steampunk” movement is also an interesting development.

    I hope that the surge of shows related to antiques and collecting will inspire more young people to be interested, and not just in a mercenary fashion.

    Of course, you can see some of the seeds of the issue just by taking a young child to a toy store. Very often when you show them and item, the first question is “What does it do?”

  2. Nick Ryan says:

    I have been to customers houses to value items and they come in low $, the customer says “It cannot be that cheap I have never seen another one like it” so i get the laptop out and do a search usually in the bay and most often there are several listed at low prices. I agree with you, the internet has shrunk the world into a small screen, great in many ways but sometimes . . .

    My passion is for clocks, I have 2 sons, aged 36 & 32, neither interested in my clocks, they will end up with them and may keep 1 each and dispose of the rest, it will matter not to me of course, I cannot force them to like antiques, I do not know why they have no interest, I have items of my mothers (83), my grandmothers & grandfathers and Gt grandfathers, I hope they ‘develop’ an interest over the years to come. Time will tell. Regards Nick

    • Connie says:

      Hi,
      I too wonder if my son (only child) will be interested and hold on to my antiques. We have to remember that it takes room to store antiques, and I have dealt with that over the years just to keep my ancestors ‘ special items plus others that I have picked up along the way.
      My Grandmother inspired me to love antiques, but it was after 35 before I could appreciate what she passed on to me. In some cases I think we have to learn at a late age to appreciate the past. I have always loved history, but not especially the history of my own family. I believe in time my son will come around as I have done. He may have to get rid of a few of my “valuables”, but I hope there will be room for many of them for his and history’s sake. We can only hope that the next generation will learn from us . We can’t make them.

  3. Glo says:

    I have been collecting since I was 19. I’m 50 now. I have two antique booths and a vintage clothing spot. My son who is almost 11 wasn’t really interested until I took him to a garage sale and I told him this ‘I will give you $20.00 – you go find something you think would sell in one of my booths and I will give you what we make off of it minus the costs incurred’. WOW, did that peak his interest.

    His first item was a set of two bubble glass wood frames in perfect condition. He bought the set for $30.00 (ok he went over his $20 budget, but I new he couldn’t pass these up – it was such a GOOD pick for his first time). He recently sold them for $98.00 for the set. They lasted about three weeks in the shop. I went through the cost of the item and the percentage our store is entitled to (Curiosities in Beaverton, Oregon) along with a small percentage mom takes to pay for the booth. Once all the math was settled he received $54.00. He was so jazzed he decided to call himself L’il Picker.

    We had a sign made and he now has a shelf at Curiosities where he displays and sells his items he finds at local garage and estate sales. I not only found a way to get him interested (and hooked), he’s also learning the business side of things. So much better than playing video games.

    • margie r. says:

      What a clever mom, so simple. He is hooked mama that’s for sure. No matter the age or era money has that certain appeal!

      • Glo says:

        yes it does :), but I do hope it’s the thrill of the hunt that will keep him interested, as well as learning the history of a piece. time will tell. thx for your reply. glo

    • Tiffanny says:

      Hello, I’m 14 years old and i’m really interested in antiques, but sadly there’s not many antique shops in my town, and not many people do garage sales too, in the summer. I wish i could go to garage sales and learn some stuff…I don’t know what else to say… I guess i’ll end this awkwardly :) hehe

      • j. Boling says:

        Tiffany, you probably navigate the Internet pretty well, so that’s a good place to start, if you want to “learn” about the neat old stuff. There are several good antique auction sites (just Google “on-line antique auction”), and follow some of their sales. Most of them have good descriptions, and you’ll also get an idea of values, as the sales end. Also, the public library has oodles of books on the subject – for a beginner, the Kovel or other “value guides” show lots of different categories and eras, plus what you could expect to buy or sell the items for. Good luck in your endeavor and I hope you find a couple of good stores to browse as your knowledge increases.

  4. J. Boling says:

    Patience, patience, patience.
    As my kids and grandkids have gotten older, it’s amazing how much their interests have changed. Three or four years ago what was ignored, is now “neat!” The polite interest of a grandson for 17th-19th century weapons five years ago is now, “When you get rid of that, can I have it?,” since he joined the Marines and established his own military connection.
    What’s old is new again for a daughter who, at one time pure 100% tom-boy (up to 30 yrs old), now drools over her great-grandmothers’ and grandmothers’ textiles.
    Showing some of them a “Price realized” statement from the auction house does get their attention, but as often as not, I hear, “But, I’d never sell it, unless I had two of them.”
    Another interest-builder I’ve discovered is taking them to watch the audience reaction when I show collections. They can understand me being a little “wacky” for some of my stuff, but when they come home, I hear, “Man! I didn’t know so many people were really into this!” It somehow validates what they’ve heard before, when it comes from a “third party.”
    In many ways, it’s like the “being seen with parents” stigma. So un-cool at that peer-pressure-driven age, but soon wearing off as “life” becomes so much more real.

    • Nick Ryan says:

      I have heard this happens, but neither of my boys have shown any interest yet, maybe it develops at much different times in individuals. There is hope yet
      :)

      Nick

  5. I think Ebay has played a significant role in both the yawn factor of our children’s interest in our old things, and for the crash in the prices of antiques in general. Ebay skewed the perception of what “rare” meant. Made it hard to realize that, yes there are 5 million people on Ebay, but look there are 10 of those things I have been looking for and can’t find. Ten is still a tiny number compared to how many people were selling on Ebay. I work for a locally upscale auction house, I see the same people month in and out at previews, not many are young people. When I notice a younger person coming to view what will be for sale, I usually go up to them and ask if they collect or what their interests are, most of our customers are dealers and a good many of them sell on Ebay. But even Ebay is changing and not, I think for the better. I went to search prices for a Pinocchio cookie jar, there should have been tons of listings, there were nearly zero, other categories too have shrunk. Have people just stopped listing these items because the prices realized were so low? And don’t get me started on what the allowance, by Ebay, of sniper software meant to auction prices. I am glad my daughter likes antiques, and will probably want most of mine. I think it might be because there is a “we” in what I have now. I included her in what I bought and what I love, maybe that’s what’s missing. There is a disconnect in family relationships, the younger generation pulled away by the glittery world of cell phones, texting, and the throw away empire of stores like Ikea. For sure it’s a new world, I’ll be a happy collector if prices come down on what I collect, an unhappy seller for all the rest.

    • Nick Ryan says:

      Hi Patricia, i am unsure of American eBay fees but here in Australia they have precluded small items from sale as there is no money left for the vendor. What I am seeing is lots of small sales venues popping up on Facebook with many people joining everyday, such as Antiques & Collectables, there are NO advertising or Sales fees it is just like the old fashioned notice board.

      Of course there are no guarantees either way but these are generally low price items that would not make it onto ebay. I feel an anti eBay revolution has started.

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