There are fads in antiques just as there are in fashion. Certain styles, time-periods, or specific pieces are “in” for a while and then lose their popularity. Purchasing these “in” antiques isn’t a bad thing. It can be fun and fun is what collecting is all about, but every collection should be centered on pieces that will last a lifetime. These are the pieces one uses on a daily basis. These are the pieces that are not sold when one moves or a need for space arises. These are pieces one keeps forever. While it’s fine to buy antiques just for fun, one should keep longevity in mind. Doing so will help one to assemble a collection that will last a lifetime.
I’ve always had a fondness for country pieces. I loved country before it was the “in” look and I still love it now that the “in” pieces are from the 1950s, ‘60s, and even 70s. I purchase pieces that aren’t country, but my major purchases almost always fit in with “my” look. It’s a practice that has served me well. I’ve had the same circa 1900 high headboard double bed, since I was fifteen-years-old. I have a Shaker-style low kitchen worktable in old red paint dating to about 1840 that I purchased at auction when I was still in high school. I’ve had a circa 1840 cherry chest of drawers and an 1843 immigrant’s trunk in old green paint since my college years. I still have the circa 1870 step-back cupboard that I purchased for my first home. In recent years I’ve downsized. I’ve worked to get rid of everything I don’t need or don’t love, but I’ve kept my best and most useful pieces. These are the pieces that will last my lifetime.
Most of us gravitate toward a specific look. Mine is country. Yours may be Victorian, Art Deco, or Mid-Century Modern. You may love shabby-chic. The choice is entirely yours. Just make sure it’s the right look for you and one you’ll want to stick with. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time. In my early years of collecting, I sought out country and Victorian because I loved them both. I bought a lot of Victorian pieces in my youth, but learned that Victorian wasn’t me. It didn’t fit in with my lifestyle and many pieces were too big. I have almost no Victorian pieces left. Over the years I sold them all off to purchase the country pieces I prefer. You may end up making a switch as well. The sooner you can pick your look, the better. The idea is to pick a scheme that you’ll want to live with not for a couple of years, not for five years, but for twenty years or more.
The most important purchases are pieces that not only fit with your look, but that serve a practical purpose. Furniture most often fits the bill. I use most of the pieces I mentioned above for their originally intended purposes. Others I adapt to new uses. I make daily use of a circa 1780 drop front desk as, you guessed it, a desk, but my Shaker-style worktable supports a big-screen TV in the living room. I much prefer it to a modern TV stand and it cost me nothing since I already owned it.
You’ll find that a long-lasting collection will save you money in many ways over the years. Had I purchased a modern bed or dresser, it would have fallen apart by now. True, I could have purchased high quality modern pieces that might have withstood the test of time, but most likely I would have tired of them by now. I’ve yet to tire of my antiques. The cost for high quality modern pieces would have been greater than my antiques. Here is a list of the prices I paid for some of my most beloved antiques years ago. My 1900 oak bed was purchased in with a whole house full of pieces and cost me $50 at most. My Shaker-style table with the original red paint was $40. My circa 1840 chest of drawers was $110 and my 1843 immigrant’s truck was $200. My step-back cupboard was $625. Today, I’d expect to pay about $200 or more for the bed, $600 for the Shaker-style table, $400 for the chest of drawers, $400 for the trunk and $1,000 or more for the cupboard. Some of the pieces were very good buys in their time, but others I purchased at or near the going rate. I couldn’t afford some of these pieces today; so holding onto to what I love has paid off!
You may be thinking it’s all well and good for someone like me who has been purchasing antiques for over forty years, but what about someone who is just starting out? Our situations are actually no different. True, the pieces I have cost much more today than when I purchased them, but they cost far more when I bought them than they did years before. If I could have purchased my step-back cupboard twenty years earlier I might have picked it up for $60 instead of $625. A collector who pays of $1,000 for a similar cupboard today will be getting it for much less that it will likely cost thirty years in the future. Simply put, the present is the past of the future. While values are not guaranteed to increase and sometimes decrease, good pieces are always a good buy. Therefore, the antiques one purchases today will likely be cheaper than they would be if purchased some years from now.
While there are financial advantages to purchasing lifetime pieces, the main value of such items is in their utility and the enjoyment one gets from them. I could make quite a profit if I sold my most beloved pieces, but I intend to make no profit at all. In fact, I won’t get back one cent I’ve put into them because these pieces won’t be sold until after I’m dead. While it’s nice to know my favorites have escalated in value, it doesn’t matter. I’d love my step-back cupboard just as much if I could purchase a similar example for $50.
I don’t hesitate to spend a little money on the “in” collectible of the day if doing so will bring me enjoyment, but I focus my purchases on pieces that I intend to keep for a lifetime. I sometimes find something I like better and sell a “lifetime” piece, but I keep most of my purchases indefinitely. Doing so has helped me build up a collection that I love. Any collector can do the same by finding their own style and then selecting pieces that fit. Pieces that can actually be used are the best buys, but even decorative items that will remain in a collection for year after year are a wise purchase. The key is to purchase quality pieces that you love. Doing so will seldom steer you wrong.