Collectable Treasures: The ups and downs of collecting

By Shaun Markey – 

There’s an ebb and flow to the antique market, which in part is caused by the state of the overall economy. There are other factors too. Personal taste and social trends also play a part in determining what’s popular.

Let’s take a moment to look more closely at antiques that have fallen out of favour in recent years.

While prices for all antiques have been down considerably since the economic slump of 2008, in large part due to Wall Street zealots who sold the world investment community a pig in a poke, otherwise known as mortgage backed securities, some categories of antiques have suffered more than others.

Brown furniture (a.k.a. mahogany and walnut furniture) has really taken a beating in  the marketplace over the last decade. The dark colour doesn’t resonate with today’s collectors.

Although not antique, but still well crafted, solid walnut and mahogany furniture made in large quantities between the wars, 1920 to 1950, has reached almost give-away prices. I have seen people struggle to make a few hundred dollars for entire dining room sets.

Of course, since there is so much of this furniture it is sitting in many, many homes and apartments across the country. It continues to flood the market but is met with a cool reception by dealers and collectors. It’s been sent to the sidelines by mid-century modern, shabby chic and other popular trends.

It’s a shame, because the brown furniture of that period was made from solid wood, following classic lines and will be around a lot longer than some of the trendy furniture examples that have replaced it.

True antique furniture from the 19th century and earlier fares somewhat better although prices and demand for this category is also weak.

Canadiana pine furniture, so much of it stripped of its original colour in the 1960’s and 70’s, has also suffered the same fate as the walnut / mahogany category. Good form in a piece of Canadiana furniture will help preserve the value over time, but run of the mill pine furniture struggles at auction and in shops.

Another factor in the weak demand for furniture is living space. The size of homes and condos is often not conducive to larger furniture pieces.

Glass, china and ceramic figurines have also suffered a similar fate. Once steady performers, these categories have sunk in popularity to a point where there is barely a pulse in their market. Chintz china was in vogue several years ago but that ship has certainly sailed. At one point, rare stacking teapot sets in hard to find patterns fetched $1000. Not anymore.

There are exceptions of course. Certain types of glass, pottery and ceramics continue to fetch robust prices. Some Moorcroft pottery, American art pottery and French art glass still fetch good prices but the quality, condition and particular style have to be exceptional.

The rarity of an antique or collectable has a huge impact on its value. It stands to reason that if an antique item is available in large quantities, the price will reflect the availability. It’s a case of supply and demand. That rule can be applied to just about any type of antique or collectable. There are many exceptions, however, to this rule.

While prices may be down, antiques and collectables are still extremely popular. Design magazines and TV shows promote antiques with continuing zeal. The problem, though, is that so much material has become “collectable.” There’s a veritable sea of stuff out there. It’s flooded flea markets and other venues, which further adds to the problem. It’s difficult to find good antiques when surrounded by junk.

It’s perhaps only natural to equate the quality of an antique to its monetary value. For some collectors, what an antique object is worth in hard currency is secondary to their joy in finding and collecting a particular item. If you enjoy an antique or collectable, that’s terrific. This is how it should be. The majority of collectors don’t plan on selling their things so market value is totally secondary. Sentimental value can often far surpass market value. I don’t own any family antiques but if I did, wild horses couldn’t drag them from my grasp, let alone a bundle of money.

A wise individual once told me to only collect the best. Those words still ring true to this day. If you are going to put the time and effort into finding certain antiques, be patient, wait for the best example to come along. Buy that one. Excellent things will always hold their value.

Shaun Markey is a resident of Westboro and author of a recently published memoir called Folk Art in the Attic. He also blogs about antiques and folk art at folkartintheattic.blogspot.caIf you have an antique or collectable and are curious about its past and approximate value, email a photo to Please make sure it’s high enough resolution so that details are visible! Any extra information you can share about your treasure is helpful too. Your item – and its story – might just be published in the next column. 

Leave a comment