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True or False? Antiques, artworks always appreciate in monetary value

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Most people believe that art, antiques and collectibles always appreciate in value. Not true! It is common for ‘objects of desire’ to go in and out of fashion. Monetary value is an expression of how many people with disposable income want something and they compete to keep the prices up in the market place. For example, an article in the September 21st New York Times Home Section, about the antiques market, noted that while Art Nouveau furniture was very popular in the 1980’s, it is currently out of favor, with prices much lower today than at that time. However, due to the current affordability, enabling dealers to acquire pieces for little money, the style was certain to be promoted again.

Promotion is key to understanding the market. The public is often bludgeoned with the concept of ‘high art’, as if collecting ‘high art’ is limited to those with “class” or “culture”. Not so – high $$$ value in the arts and antiques market is the result of dealers finding a category of ‘stuff’ that is currently affordable, and then building consumer demand through marketing techniques that involve coffee table books, fancy catalogs, museum shows, and yes, even self-dealing at auctions. With antiques and artworks the mantra of “buy cheap and sell high” is just as applicable as it is with other items, and dealers work hard to promote their inventory.

All this came to my mind because of a recent appraisal involving a “Vienna Regulator” wall clock dating from the 3rd quarter of the 19th century. This type of clock was so fashionable that the prices grew quite high in the 1980’s. The market responded with very good reproductions for very reasonable prices, and this has driven down the market value of the antique clocks from their previous highs – way down. A good example of this clock would sell in the 1980’s in the $3,500 and up range. Today a quick check of current market values at Artfact.com shows that $700 - $800 is the norm. There are simply not enough people interested in these fine antique clocks to make the market for them competitive with the reproductions. This is very difficult to explain to a client who has been fed the doctrine that all antiques and artworks go up in value. It also makes a data base of recent auction sales invaluable in substantiating an appraised value.

My clock specialist friend also thinks that the whole social value of “telling time” has changed. Two hundred years ago only the very wealthy owned a clock, and it was a huge status symbol. Today a clock is every where you look – the TV, the microwave, the stereo, the car dash – and younger people just don’t get the idea of owning a fine clock. Now there’s an interesting cultural insight.

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