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I was set up at an antiques show recently. A lady, just slightly my senior, came in my booth with some pre-teen children. She was very drawn to our small display of old medicine tins. She was trying her best to drag the kids down "memory lane" along with her and they were simply not willing to go. She gave up finally, and just walked away. Even though that was a NO SALE for me, I felt bad for her. I got the feeling she was trying to instill a sense of history (and the value of it) to the kids but they couldn't relate. They had never heard of these products and just could not "compute" the concept of tin packaging.

At another show a couple of... ahem... seasoned citizens were browsing (Read: picking up and slightly rearranging every single thing...grr) in our booth for a good 15 minutes. Finally she says to he, "I don't know, these dealers mix in brand new stuff with the old stuff and it shouldn't be that way". It goes against my nature to challenge a customer's opinion but I am not beyond defending my reputation especially when this show has a pre-1949 rule. When pressed to point out the "brand new" merchandise her position was, since she had owned, or could recollect her mother owning, about one third of the stuff in my booth it didn't qualify as an "antique". I asked her to please report her opinion to the show management, and she did. We had a good laugh afterwards.
So how old does an ANTIQUE need to be?

When I first got this "sickness" an antique had to be MINIMUM 200 years old. How many of us can certify that the majority of our stock is 200 years old? I'll bet not many... certainly not me.

I'm not sure when things changed. It seems to me that somewhere around the bicentennial (1976) I became aware that 100 years old was now considered antique. Since I was a collector, and not a dealer, at that time the change had little bearing on my interest or pocketbook. (Why do we say that? I don't carry a pocketbook! I have a wallet.) Okay, I can safely say that most of my (furniture) stock is 100 years old. Some is even circa U. S. Civil War which is well after the industrial revolution and mostly factory made.

Fast forward to about 1990-95 suddenly "antique" meant 60 years. Seems odd that in just about 50 years antiques lost 140 years. At any rate, when well known experts such as Harry Rinker ( www.harryrinker.com ) and Terry Kovel ( www.kovels.com ) endorse the 60 year mark, who am I to protest? If everyone is okay with 60 years, I am too.

Things will have gone full circle when the kids, who couldn't care less about the medicine tins, try to get their kids to look at an "old" Harry Potter plastic lunch box, won't they?

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Comment by Les Beyer on June 11, 2009 at 9:47am
hehe... I am always willing to consider that I am my own worst enemy. lol
Since it is said that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' does it follow that 'antiquity is in the age of the customer'?
As we age, the things we recall from our childhood are familiar to us. Yet to someone born after 1985 (just picking a date out of the air) those same things are odd, quaint or rare.
Given today's economy and mindset, I believe, odd, quaint or rare are all the qualities that apply. An exact age (50, 100, 200 years) are not the main issue.
Vince, you said, "After all, how many real 'antiques" can there be to go around.". Well, to us who have been in and around the trade for a long time, yeah, those great old pieces are getting hard to find. And there will always be a select group of customers looking for a genuine primitive, circa 1809 pie safe but, I'm thinking, that number is shrinking. I don't know if that is due to interest or economics. How many would be interested in a 1909 or, indeed, 1939 country made pie safe? THAT number is evidently much higher and I believe that is due to econmics. How many people would be interested in a 2009, made in the shed out back reproduction? That number is incomprehensible to me given the fact that they are willing to pay more for it than the real thing.
I don't have any problem with reproductions, honest, I don't. But misleading customers is just bad business. I see too many things being sold as "antiques" which were made in someone's shop in the past 6 months. Some, maybe many, people are getting wise to it and it's giving all dealers a bad reputation. I'm not above selling a reproduction now & then (in my booth only, not at shows) but I always lable it as such. People seem to respond positivly to the lable and remark that they appreciate the honesty.
In the mean time, yeah buddy, keep buying... I am too. Things are bound to turn around.
Comment by VinceJ on June 11, 2009 at 3:45am
Les,

If the rules stated everything pre-49 what were you doing there? Maybe YOU were the item the woman was complaining about, just maybe?

Maybe the ages of "antiques" get quantified as a direct proportion to population. After all, how many real 'antiques" can there be to go around. As the collecting bug spread, and there are more people, more stuff needs to be on the market.
You can't actually Make antiques (well, that's my stock answer to people who ask us if we "buy antiques", like, we're an antiques store -- whatcha think, we make the stuff? - yes). but you can re-define the category to broaden the saleability to those hungry customers.

When their hunger is somewhat sated, or their "pocketbook" emptied, as we seem to see more of today... then you can stop making them and concentrate on the ones you have already.

If the economy takes an upturn again, expect the gap between "now and then" to tighten.
If it stays down or a while, expect the "real antiques" (I dunno, stuff from pre-war II) to hold well. They'll come back with a vengeance.

We, in fact, are stocking up on some great old stuff right now, really old, at good pricing.
Holding the fort may be tough, but calvary's just around the corner . We know it, we wish it, we want it.

cheers.

vince.

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