By Mark A. Roeder
Are antiques & collectibles a good investment? Several years ago, I answered this question with a resounding Yes! But today things are more uncertain. A decade or two ago, anyone with a little knowledge of antiques and some wise buying and selling tactics could make sound investments. I built up an impressive collection by doing so, even though my funds were quite limited. Antiques even helped pay for my home. The world of antiques has become unstable since then, however, and harder to predict.
Let me stop here and point out that I’m not predicting doom and gloom for collectors, not at all. Most antique purchases are still a wise investment. It’s just no longer a sure thing that values will increase. Too many have jumped on the antiques bandwagon purely for investment. These individuals often inflate values beyond their natural level and cause them to drop when they dump their investments on the market. Many true collectors have become wary of the shifting economic conditions and have less faith in antiques. This has created a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and has lowered the values of some pieces while leaving others untouched.
One part of the collecting world is as certain as ever—the enjoyment of antiques. Most collectors do not collect for the sake of monetary profit. We collect because we love antiques. Profit is secondary, if it is considered at all. This is as it should be. If the values of all my antiques were to plummet tomorrow, I wouldn’t be overly grieved or concerned. When I purchase something, I know it may well be more valuable in the future, but I don’t bank on it. I don’t depend on the appreciation of values for my livelihood. I buy antiques because I love them, I enjoy them, and I often just can’t help myself. I think this is true of most collectors. Enjoyment can never be taken away from us, unless we allow it.
Now that I’ve mentioned the real purpose of collecting, I’ll say something about the “other” side—investing. Profit is a part of collecting antiques and there is nothing wrong with making money from your collection. For many collectors, it is this profit that makes it possible for them to have a collection. Profit is not the end goal, but it is a useful part of collecting antiques. Profit is no longer certain, but it’s often still possible. If you are successful enough your collection can even support itself. You will no longer have to steal $25 from your grocery budget to afford that piece you have had your eye on. This is still true today, even though things are more up in the air. I love auctions and often I have to buy items I don’t want to get the piece I desire. This is a good thing rather than bad. After I’ve sold off the extra stuff, I’m often left what I wanted at very little cost. Sometimes, I have less than nothing in a piece because that extra stuff sold for more than I paid for everything.
Profit isn’t the goal for most collectors. It merely adds to the fun and gives us all an excuse to spend money on our collections. We can always rationalize our purchases by thinking; “It’s likely a good investment after all.” It’s nice to know that if we tire of a piece, or a collection, we can sell it off and perhaps even make money on it. That profit will support whatever new collecting area we enter.
Times are harder now than they were. It is in times such as these that antiques can come to the rescue. What was once purchased with money taken from the grocery budget can be sold and the funds returned. Antiques are like a savings account, but they pay interest in enjoyment, as well as cash. I don’t mind parting with antiques when I need the money, because I get to keep the enjoyment and the memories. The antiques that surround me give me a sense of security. I know that if I really need the money, I can sell them. Even if I get somewhat less than I paid, that’s okay, because being able to use antiques is worth the cost. Most often, I get back every penny I put in, and more.
The greatest profits of investing in antiques and collectibles concerns, not dollars and cents, but the enjoyment we all receive from collecting. Most often, the proceeds for the sale of antiques goes right back into collecting. Even when the funds must go to pay utilities or a doctor’s bill, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing that a beloved antique came to the rescue in a time of need.
The real goal of most collectors is not to make money, but to have fun collecting. One should never lose sight of this. So what if profits are no longer certain? Does it really matter in the end? No investment is certain and few are as enjoyable as antiques. Think of it this way; which would you rather have—a savings passbook, stocks worth $500, or a nice blanket chest or mid-century chrome kitchen dining set to enjoy each and every day? When the time comes to sell you’ll most likely receive the original purchase price back, and more. It is like getting paid to enjoy your collection. Even if no profit is made, the enjoyment is still there. There’s no guarantee of profit even with a savings account or stocks. The pitiful interest paid today assures than inflation will decrease the value of money in a savings account. We’ve all heard about vast sums of money lost in the stock market. Even though antiques are not a sure thing, they seem far more stable that most investments.
Is it possible to lose money on an antique investment? Of course it is. Values can and do decrease. There is no such thing as “a sure thing.” Most of the time, however, antiques that decrease in value regain it. If the prices drop on what you collect don’t worry. The only sure way to lose money is to panic and sell. Just hold onto your collection, the values will likely come back up. Rather than being a tragedy, lower values are an opportunity to purchase what one could not afford in the past. Always look for the silver lining.
Economic times have been uncertain before and antiques have always performed quite well. A little caution is a good thing when the situation is unstable, but this doesn’t mean collectors should stop buying. How much something is worth shouldn’t matter. So what if the circa 1880 cracker jar you paid $100 for is only worth $50? Is it any less beautiful or nostalgic? Is its power to bring up pleasant memories of a bygone age any less potent? What should it matter if it’s only worth $50 to others? The only thing that matters is what it’s worth to you and such values are rarely figured in dollars and cents. There is no “sure thing,” except perhaps when it comes to the enjoyment of antiques.