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.