Monday, January 12, 2009

Are antiques a good investment?

There's no guarantee that any particular antique will appreciate over time since value is determined by changing tastes, styles, trends, economic conditions, fluctuating demand, etc.

But generally speaking, fine antiques as a group have appreciated dramatically over the years.

The reason is simple: in the previous millennium, the world’s population was significantly smaller and wasn’t industrially mechanized. As such, only a very limited number of first quality pieces were made, and many of them have not survived.

This limited (and constantly contracting) supply coupled with a generally growing demand have driven prices higher.

This demand is fueled by different types of buyers including collectors, investors looking for a tangible asset alternative to stocks and bonds, institutions, and people who simply enjoy being surrounded by fine antiques in their homes.

I should also mention that the better the antique, the better the return. Mediocre antiques will always be mediocre and really shouldn't be purchased as an investment. But I think the best way to approach antique investing is to buy what you love and look at the increased value as an added perq.

Shown below: An Incomparable 18th Century Venetian Chinoiserie Secretaire
List price: $360,000 USD

Is this amazing, or what? Makes you want to cry it's so beautiful.


sue capelli said...

As always this was wonderful, cannot wait to see what will follow !!!

Unknown said...

Guidance O Expert of All Things of Antiquity!

My wife and I are looking for a dining room set and this is our first major furniture purchase. So, being the type of person I am, I have started consuming as much information on as I can starting with the Interweb. Which is where I found your site and I love it! The Interweb & your blog have answered quite a few questions, created more and all in all has given me a nice shallow foundation into the world if antique & vintage furniture. I've also spoken to a few local dealers which have been very helpful.

There is 1 question that I haven't been able to get a relatively unbiased opinion on since dealers have a vested interest in selling the products that they have in inventory. We really like Louis XV style. I've seen quite a bit of it available made between the years 1890 & 1950. I've found that the price range is comparable whether or not the dining furniture is antique or vintage. So, which is better to purchase: an original finish 1890s-1910 set or a beautifully refinished set made after 1910?

Now, you may answer the question as is or you may continue with my twisted thought processes on the subject. You've been warned ;-)

My first instinct is that it's a better buy to purchase the actual antique set with the original finished even if there are blemishes. However, there's quite a bit of this style furniture available so it's not as if they are considered rare. So, maybe it makes no difference as long as the table and chairs are made well.

Thank you for any guidance & food for thought you can provide!

Unknown said...

This is a really good question and here's the answer:

All things being equal, it's not a close call: it's smarter to buy the antique (the one made prior to 1910) over the vintage piece.

Antiques command a premium over vintage pieces simply because they're antiques (that's because the demand for antiques is greater than that for vintage furniture).

HOWEVER, if the vintage piece is made of better materials, the design is more true to the Louis XV period, the price is much lower, and/or the set is in much better condition, then you should go with the newer vintage set.

THE TRICK IS THIS: it's very unlikely that two Louis XV-style dining sets look exactly the same and are of exactly the same quality. Check the patina to see if one is better than the other, compare the set with real Louis XV sets in museum books for style subtleties, check the wood (it would be beech or walnut if it's true to the period), etc. There are a of factors that come into play in making the correct choice here.

Also remember that authentic Louis XV pieces are all from the 18th c. and from France and so the sets you're considering are called "meuble de style", meaning they are in the taste of Louis XV.

Dealers and collectors often describe these later or non-French pieces as "19th c. Louis XV" or "Italian" Louis XV," etc. And this is fine because it's just another way of the telling you that the piece is "in the taste of Louis XV/in the Louis XV style." Different words, same meaning.

Bottom line: there is nothing wrong with buying Louis XV style pieces that are made later than the Louis XV period (or are from country other than France) but the quality of these pieces still needs to measure up.

Just as there were junky pieces made in the 18th c., there were junky copies made later. A mediocre antique or vintage piece will always be just that--mediocre and second quality (regardless of whether they're 50, 100 or even 200 years old). And mediocre pieces are never worth much on resale. That's why you need to carefully examine the construction, shape, materials, carving and finish before you make your decision.

My best advice is that if you don't know antiques, then know your dealer. He or she can guide you as to what factors favor one set over another. That's why picking a long-established dealer or a seasoned interior designer is well worth the effort.

Hope this helps!


Unknown said...

Thank you for the fast and thorough response. It's very edubacational. I'm reading the rest of your blog posts, trolling the InterWeb for more information and I think it's time to hunt down some of your recommended books. I have to say your blogs have been the most entertaining!

The comment about accuracy to styles reminded me of something I read in passing about Depression era furniture makers mixing styles. I came across a table that was Louis XVI styling (straight edges with fluting around the edge) with a Louis the XV style base (cabriolet legs and shell motif carvings. Strangely it was missing the snail carvings at the feet and instead the feet looked more like hooves).

So, the learning curve is in full force. I'm working on recognizing woods (although stained wood is more difficult), styles and manufacturing. So, the hunt continues.