Antiques and Collectibles: Are They Still Wanted?

maps and globes design

Attractive design scenes in magazines, like this one with maps and globes, can temporarily increase the popularity of certain collectibles. Photo credit: One Kings Lane

In the past few years, WorthPoint has published many articles about the downturn in the antiques and collectibles market.  We’ve covered inheritances (like dinner china, libraries and train sets) that your descendants don’t want.  We’ve talked about decorative trends that have fallen out of favor and vintage furniture that no longer has any use.  The Internet has greatly impacted values, and reproductions have caused widespread concern for authenticity.

So WorthPoint asked: Are any of yesterday’s treasures still in demand?  It’s a fickle business, to be sure. What’s hot today may be out of vogue tomorrow.  What sells on the East Coast may gather dust in a Midwest antique store.  Big city markets support higher end antiques but expensive items may not sell well in smaller venues.   And many of today’s keepsakes are much more regional (like sports team memorabilia).

It is true that certain decorative items experience a momentary surge in popularity when magazines like Country Living feature design ideas. Turtle shells, mercury glass, milk painted furniture, antlers, old alarm clocks and mulberry transferware can fly off the shelves when given prominence in a cute vignette.  House-flipping television shows often showcase flea market finds with the same results.  Cast iron trivets might languish in stores for years until somebody promotes them in a smart wall grouping.  Then everybody thinks they’re a great idea, for a while.

While vintage items are still used for design accents, the trend is moving away from pure collecting.  Older generations collected as a hobby.  The joy was in the hunt – for things as varied as lead soldiers, lunch boxes, dolls, coins, arrowheads, vinyl records and soft drink souvenirs. Baby boomers often stayed in the same home for decades and loved to display their finds.  Younger generations don’t want to amass all that stuff.  They switch jobs and move more often.  Millennials would rather use collectibles for practical purposes (if they want them at all).  And dealers who want to stay in the business have to adapt to the changing times.

Here are some observations of what’s currently in demand.  But take these with a grain of salt, as they can change in a flash.

  1. Industrial Chic.  As more people move to urban centers, old buildings and factories are repurposed into living spaces with exposed brick, pipe and ductwork.  This minimalist, cutting-edge look inspires the need for utilitarian furnishings to match.   Downtown loft dwellers are snapping up 1930’s theater lighting, metal lockers, analog gym clocks, farmhouse sinks, distressed wood tables and vintage train benches.  Accessories might also include antique typewriters, laboratory equipment, old battered books, dress forms and 19th century botanical prints.

vintage industrial chic loft design

An industrial chic loft spot inspires the use of vintage design elements to match.

  1. Designer Labels.  Modern collectors don’t put their treasures on a shelf to admire, they put them to use.  For those who covet retro fashion and luxury brands, there’s nothing better than a cool vintage find at a (relative) bargain price.  Estate sales that advertise designer handbags, clothing and jewelry (especially in upscale parts of town) have lines waiting to get in.  You might find something really unique from yesteryear or a 25-year-old Louis Vuitton purse in a classic style that’s still being sold today.  A 1950’s wool Chanel suit, a Pucci scarf worn by a Braniff flight attendant, an Eisenberg fur pin or a Burberry suitcase can all bring top dollar.  Which is why vintage clothing and accessory stores are popping up all over.

hermes birkin crocodile bag

On the secondary market, luxury goods are super hot. This pre-owned crocodile Hermes Birkin bag sold for $68,750 at Heritage Auction Galleries in June 2017.

  1. Crystal Chandeliers.  This isn’t as odd as it sounds.  Antique chandeliers have a crossover appeal with multiple age groups and are purchased by those with both old and new money.   Owners of opulent homes with vaulted ceilings and heavy antique furnishings are still buying them for entryways and dining rooms.  But younger loft owners also need lots of light to showcase those stark metal furnishings, especially in rooms with massive warehouse ceilings and recessed dark spaces.  Designers like the gothic look inspired by a mix of antique crystals with original rafters and brick.  Owners with industrialized décor are hanging them from very long chains over their entertainment and dining areas.  People even buy small chandeliers for bathrooms, hanging them inside metal birdcages for a hip, trendy accent to all that exposed plumbing.

gothic crystal chandelier

Owners of expansive loft spaces hang crystal chandeliers from exposed girders for a fun gothic look.

  1. Pastel Pyrex.  I wish I had a good explanation for why this mid-century kitchenware is so popular right now, but I don’t.  Antique stores can’t keep it in stock and it is the first thing to go at estate and garage sales.  Casserole dishes, ramekins, refrigerator storage units and mixing bowls are best sellers.  So what’s the appeal?  It’s got a great retro look, it’s nostalgic and it’s practically unbreakable.  It goes in the oven and the microwave.  It’s stackable and dishwasher safe.  More important, everybody has a favorite recipe their mother made in it, most likely with tuna and noodles and topped with crushed potato chips.  Come to think of it, those are all pretty good reasons to own this classic cookware.

mid century pastel pyrex dishes

Who doesn’t love it?  Mid century pastel Pyrex dishes still sell well at antique stores, flea markets, estate sales, and Internet sales!

  1. Ephemera.  Throughout the years, paper has always been a good seller and doesn’t appear to be affected by fads.  Probably because it is inexpensive and doesn’t take up much space, the younger generations buy it as much as the older ones.  People just love to look through boxes of antique valentines, post cards and photographs, selecting one or two to buy for a couple of dollars each.  Old advertising, movie posters, crate labels and sheet music are perfect for hanging on exposed brick walls, especially if they show a little wear and tear.  Victorian scrap can be made into charming Christmas ornaments.  Vintage menus are fun to share at themed dinner parties.  And it can all be used as creative decoupage wallpaper in a tiny bathroom.  Collecting ephemera will probably never go out of style.  

parker's tonic 1800s ad

This Parker’s Tonic ad dates to the 1800s. The colorful lithographs make them most appealing for framing and hanging.

So, are people still buying antiques and collectibles?  Absolutely.  The challenge is only that the market is changing as younger clientele establish their own niche.


Liz Holderman is a Worthologist and accredited appraiser who specializes in books and collectibles.

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