What Napoleon Missed
Now that the terms “antique” and “semi-antique/collectible” have been defined, it seems only natural for me to present you the many advantages they bring to our lives.
Legend records an account of a sovereign who really goofed when he turned down an opportunity to acquire an exquisite French cabinet. If this famous non-collector found out who now owns this masterpiece, he would turn over in his regal tomb at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris. Napoleon I, Emperor of France from 1804 to 1815, was offered a sumptuous cabinet that once belonged to in-laws of Queen Marie Antoinette of France. Bonaparte, who had little appreciation for peace and even less for curios, haughtily declared, “His majesty wants the new and not to buy old.” What perks do antiques offer that Napoleon so thoughtlessly disregarded? The benefits fall into four main categories: practical, financial, intellectual, and emotional.
Mother Nature Loves Antiques
Remember how Gram critiqued my antique choices? Her remark, “I threw one out just like it forty years ago,” suggests a rarely mentioned dividend of antiquing. Collecting is really a long-established form of recycling, which benefits our environment. Reusing discarded objects decreases the amount of trash entering landfills, and reclaiming wooden furniture saves trees by reducing demand for new wood.
No Assembly Required
A while back I wanted to become more high tech, so I bought a new computer desk for my office. (My emotional choice, an antique model, seemed impractical for this purpose.) I gave up a postcard-perfect fall weekend to unpack the desk and put it together. This tedious job illustrated another gratifying aspect of collecting: antiques, unlike most new furniture or practically anything else for our homes, don’t require assembly.
Antiques Give More Dash for Your Cash
Not long ago, my family visited an outdoor show in Allegan, Michigan. A 1940s end table flirted with my sister, Debbie. It ended up in her family’s living room for only $40. My nephew, Ryan, took home a 1915 oak rocking chair for a mere $30.
It might seem unbelievable that in the twenty-first century you can buy a rocking chair and table for under $100, but it’s true. Although these pieces aren’t museum caliber, they are well made and charming. In contrast, what can you buy new for $70 in a furniture store (or even at Target)? You can actually buy better quality furniture for less by shopping for antiques.
Antiques Retain Value Better Than New
The instant your new item leaves the store, it’s considered used merchandise and, therefore, plummets in value. Have you been to a garage sale where a downtrodden soul was trying to peddle a six-month old sofa? That demoralized individual might have been your antiques coach. After a day of wheeling and dealing on my driveway, I was thrilled to get $65 for what originally cost $650. That experience taught me that antiques are far better investments when compared to new items.
Antiques May Increase In Value
Unlike my former sofa, antiques keep their value and sometimes increase. If you compare prices from the past to current ones, you’ll be startled to see how much they’ve increased. For instance, when I was in graduate school, I bought a 1930s china closet. The layaway plan made it possible to make weekly payments until I had paid the full $175. That semi-antique/collectible is now worth $900 to $1,800. If I were to sell it, I would get an excellent return for my $175 investment. Best of all, it still looks grand in my dining room.
Antiques Offer Higher Quality
It doesn’t take long to learn that antiques are usually better made than their modern counterparts. Older houses, as you know, have plastered walls, while contemporary homes have drywall. This similar disparity in quality exists between antiques and new goods. Modern furniture highlights the craftsmanship found in antiques. Current furniture may have particleboard or cardboard backs, unlike the solid wood backs used in antiques. When modern furniture features “carving,” it is usually plastic, not the painstakingly hand carved wood found in vintage pieces. Modern furniture is assembled with weak, ugly staples, rather than with glue and screws. The same contrast in quality is evident in other products, from china to silver. While some modern goods have quality construction, they are the exception and are very expensive. How many of us have checkbooks that can tackle their lofty prices?
Antiques Teach History
Antiques make great history teachers because they offer personal and interesting insights into the past. For example, have you ever wondered why some old-fashioned chairs have casters on their front legs? Before central heating, they made scooting over to a warm fireplace much easier. Information like this illuminates the lifestyles and customs of our ancestors.
Antiques Provide Mini Vacations
Have you ever heard the song Judy Garland sings in the 1950 movie Summer Stock? The lyrics include the words, “Forget your troubles; come on, get happy….” I always add, “…by going antiquing.” Rummaging aisle after aisle at malls, shows, or flea markets makes troubles and stress disappear as you search for that special antique. Or better yet, just enjoy being a tourist while sightseeing and reading descriptions, which incidentally is an easy way to study antiques (more about this later).
Antiques Promotes Bonding
Another benefit of antiquing is that anyone tagging along will probably become a lifelong friend. I fondly reminisce with my buddies Pete and Dianne about one of our best-ever antiques rendezvous in the French paradise known as the Parisian Flea Market. We have also grown to respect our different tastes and shopping styles. At shows, one of us is the meanderer while the other two are sprinters. Our diverse modes complement each other; Dianne has spotted gems the too-hurried guys missed.
Antiques can work the same magic with relatives. Antiquing has made my sister and me even better pals, and we often plan our summer get-togethers around outdoor shows. Now her husband, Ron, and their son, Ryan, join us. We someday hope to snag my niece, “Miss” Mackenzie, and her husband, Kris, into our collecting group. (More about my efforts with those two in Chapter 16, which gives strategies to help you convert someone into an antiquer.)
Antiques And Feng Shui
For centuries, the Chinese have followed Feng Shui, the art of arranging objects to promote positive energy in homes and businesses. The philosophy incorporates many principles, but one in particular especially pertains to us.
One of the tenets of Feng Shui is the importance of surrounding ourselves with possessions that bring happiness and harmony. Antiques do this superbly. It doesn’t matter if yours are pedigreed or mixed breeds; the important thing is to pick what you love. Persian carpets, 1900 oak furniture, 1930s Depression glass, Beatles memorabilia, English china, and baseball cards all can work their mystical charm by bringing happiness to their owners.
Forgive me for being so upbeat, but if you’re a collector, you understand. Or if you are about to plunge into antiques, then you’ll soon discover why I’m so enthusiastic. Let me illustrate with a story to demonstrate their magic. While I was helping with the Antiques Roadshow in Louisville, Kentucky, a lady vigilantly holding a pink teacup and saucer to be appraised taught me the meaning of Feng Shui. Grasping her treasure was no easy chore, for an illness had gnarled her hands. But her grin reflected her rapture as she chattered to me about her grandmother’s china. Just sharing her joy with me seemed to erase her discomfort.
Remember my account about the antique of my dreams and how you will get one, too? Even now the highboy brings me the same Feng Shui magic that it did during those appalling times by constantly reminding me of the beauty in this world.
I can testify from experience that a glance at a beloved heirloom can give you a thrill. Perhaps grandma’s china or a favorite uncle’s chair gives you good vibes. Precious family mementos such as these can keep beloved relatives always in your heart and give you peaceful thoughts during rough times. Just looking at my English blue-and-white Wedgwood china plates (only $6.50 each) does that to me. They always make me say, “How I love those plates.” (You see, Wedgwood is one of my passions.) Antiques lift my spirits and constantly comfort me. They did it for my Louisville hero at the Antiques Roadshow, and yours will do the same for you. That’s Feng Shui in action!
Just imagine that while resting in your recently acquired 1900 rocking chair that you sense the happy times the chair has witnessed. The antique’s positive feelings are now yours until it goes on to the next person. And hopefully you will add even more delight to your antique for future generations to enjoy.
Antiques And Pets Are The International Language Of Friendship
Have you ever been at a party where the bragging, hot political debates, or trivial jabber is just too much? Or worse, you’re enduring dead silence? Then, miraculously, the gathering becomes blissfully noisy, full of giggling and happy banter. Why? Someone probably mentioned pets. Conversations about antiques create the same transformation. Strangers have become pals comparing shows, dealers, prices, and collections. Dogs, cats, and antiques bring out the best in people and are part of the international language of friendship.
Now that you know all the perks antiques bring to our lives, you probably realize why few (if any) portraits of Napoleon ever depicted him smiling.
When the Emperor rejected the cabinet, he not only lost the opportunity to own a magnificent piece of furniture, but he also missed out on the bonuses that come with antiques. Furthermore, today a descendent of his archenemy, King George III, owns this crème de la crème antique. According to David Linley in his superb book, Extraordinary Furniture, this showpiece embellishes the private apartments of Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle. ?
More from Antique Trader
- Secrets to Savvy Collecting: How to collect like a rock star on a garage band budget
- Antique shop owners share secrets of their success
Editor’s Pick - New Release
As the longest-running guide and the most trusted name in antiques and collectibles, the 45th Edition of Wamran’s Antiques & Collectibles features more than 1,500 color images and 6,000 listings. It brings a fresh, 21st-century perspective that honestly assesses the market and looks at the best categories for investment–everything from glassware and toys to early flags and maps. “Future of the Market” reports on what’s hot, and where experts are putting their money.
Top names in the trade weigh in on key categories:
- Writer Andrew Myers looks at 18th- and 19th-century French furniture
- Toy expert Andrew Truman shares insights on “Door of Hope” dolls
- Tom Deupree and Morrow Jones reveal the secrets to finding vernacular photographs
- Collector Forrest Poston looks at the market for West German art pottery
MORE RESOURCES FOR ANTIQUE COLLECTORS and DEALERS