The 47th edition of “Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles” has just been released, and orders are flying out of the warehouse for this satisfyingly engaging reference filled with provocative insights and exciting selections from the diverse world of antiques and collectibles. Reaching out to Editor Noah Fleisher for his thoughts on bringing this long-respected guide into the up-and-coming collecting era is a fitting debut.
Antique Trader: How has working for Heritage Auctions affected your view of the antiques and collectibles market, and how it is portrayed in “Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2014”?
Noah Fleisher: I’ve been at Heritage for almost five years now, and was a writer and editor at various antiques publications for a decade before that. I have had a front row seat for viewing a seismic shift in the market from nuts and bolts, in-the-trenches antiques shows and shops to an Internet and auction dominated market. It’s been impressive, inspiring and sometimes scary – depending on your perch – to watch.
Being at Heritage, given the size and importance of the company’s Internet platform and its role in the shift I spoke about above, I’ve marveled at the power of the Web and marveled even more at those – from Heritage to eBay to LiveAuctioneers, 1stDibs and well beyond – who have been able to successfully translate their brick-and-mortar businesses into profitable online ventures. The future is clearly in dealer, collector and seller flexibility.
I’ve also been able to witness the explosive growth in the collectibles market, which has seemingly outpaced antiques. This is reflected in “Warman’s 2014,” specifically in original Comic Art, which has grown by leaps and bounds over the last three years, and by Movie Posters, which was way up a decade ago, saw some deflation about three years ago and now has started to pick back up again; with a new generation of collectors and a healthy helping of crossover collectors from other categories, lending new heft (and some great prices) to the form. From Universal Horror, to great 1950s and 1960s Sci-Fi and kitsch to surprisingly strong prices on modern films like “Batman,” “Avatar” and “James Bond,” collectors are paying good money for prime examples.
AT: What collectible investment categories in “Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles” do you view with the most optimism?
NF: That’s tough to say, because “Warman’s” is a deep book, put together by some of the best minds in the business. Out of the dozens of categories I could probably point to at least 10 or 20 that would bear closer inspection (plus I don’t want to diminish anyone’s favorite thing) but I would have to look – as I mention above – at original comic book and comic strip art and I would encourage everyone to take a closer look at Americana, which had been quite undervalued for some time.
Comic art is visual, evocative and a great conversation starter, and can be had for relatively little money in many cases, though the best examples bring hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is also a moving and evolving market. As a new generation moves into the market, we are seeing older generations retire from collecting and sell what they have. The result has been that a great availability of 1930s, 1940s and 1950s art is on the market and is relatively undervalued – meaning a good opportunity right now – while a lot of art from the 1980s and 1990s, up to the point everything went digital – is bringing some incredibly high value. People want what they grew up with and the market is dominated right now by folks who grew up in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, so that is where they will put their money.
Americana, too, has seen some resurgence in recent years, especially presidential memorabilia and artifacts related to the great names of American Pop Culture, Entertainment, Space Exploration and Politics. Conversely, while prices in the aforementioned areas have been rising, there are tremendous opportunities in Civil War memorabilia, Arms and Armor and Militaria. Smart collectors will be looking at our national history as a good place to go, I believe. The world may be moving much faster now than ever before, but there will be a backlash against the fully digitized life at some point soon, in my opinion, and historic material will be in demand by those who want to get back into the physical world; what better way than by stewarding history?
AT: What is your favorite category in “Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2014”?
NF: My most favorite is probably Illustration Art; names like Elvgren, Leyendecker, Avati, Moran, Vargas and Sundblom. I had not had a great amount of exposure to illustration before I came to Heritage, but soon after my arrival, the company began to auction off the Estate of Charles Martignette, a true treasure chest of illustration that encompassed everything from the Brandywine School to Golden Age illustration, through pin-ups, pulps, magazine drawings and book covers all the way through the ’70s and ’80s.
I had never been exposed to such art, in such a high concentration from such a unique and interesting collector. When I witnessed the detail of the collection combined with the incredible abilities of these very special artists – and the amazing fact of the art’s mere survival – it was a true eye-opener and an intensive education like I had not gotten since college many years ago. This study led me, inevitably, to original comic art, which I think my love for is quite evident in the questions above, where I found my interest and passion doubled again.
Illustration Art is fascinating on so many levels; I love the colors and varied subjects, I love the mysterious and complex lives of the artists and I think, simply, that it is nothing less than a complete and fascinating survey of American tastes, ideas and philosophies of the 100 years that led up to the transition into photography as the dominant American medium of current events.
AT: What collecting category did you find a new appreciation for through your Warman’s experience?
NF: I have to say that I grew to love the Petroliana and Advertising art I had to sift through and talk with experts about. This is truly great stuff and supremely evocative of American idealism in the early and mid-20th century and the collectors who love the stuff really love the stuff – how can you not catch a bug from that kind of energy?
The form also dovetails perfectly with my fascination with illustration art, much of which was used in advertising and calendars. There is not much crossover of actual art, but attitudes, lines and colors all suggest similar intentions. This stuff was produced in an American era where nothing was impossible, our political and financial philosophies were ascendant and there was no Internet or 24-hour news cycle. It results in a fantastic dynamism that was undiluted by global cynicism and crass commercialism.
AT: The categories in this new edition of Warman’s seem to be more representative of mainstream collecting interests. How did you determine which collecting categories should be included in this edition?
NF: I have the good fortune of being well-placed at Heritage to watch trends as they are discovered and pick up steam. I also make a point in my work of watching the market very closely and from all angles – I read the trades daily and weekly and I watch the mainstream media for stories that trend across major outlets. In most every corner these days the focus is on the more mainstream while “traditional” antiques, while still very important to the everyday antiques markets, have stayed relatively flat – of course, quality will always sell, no matter the form.
Mainstream collecting interests have picked up significant steam in the last four years with the glut of antiques, auction and collectibles related to “reality” TV. I’m not going to wax philosophic on the benefit or detriment of these shows to the general collecting public or to the die-hard, but – for better or worse – the boys in the pawn shop in Las Vegas, along with the rest of the crew, high end to low, has captured the attention of people and raised the profile of the most immediately accessible – read: mainstream – categories. It’s calling balls and strikes really, without defining the merits of the pitches as curves or sinkers, if you know what I mean…
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