A premium on the past

Antiques are all about nostalgia. We want to recapture that feeling, that time, represented by a specific item, which brings us back and reminds us of when we were young, of people and places that meant something to us then.

I’m now at a point when the things of my childhood are becoming collectible. The toys I had, the furniture that populated the houses and schools I knew, are fetching a premium from people of the same generation. Unwittingly, and against my protests, my life is well on its way to becoming an antique itself.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve still got a few years to go before I hit 40, but this last weekend, as a whole crew from F+W Publications and I descended upon Atlantic City to run the spring edition of the twice-yearly Atlantique City Antiques Show, there was a healthy sampling of the various elements that colored my childhood. Maybe it was a board game, maybe it was an action figure or maybe it was a chair or table that did it, but walking that floor and looking at all that good stuff, something inside me stirred.

The essentials that provide the material texture of my memories, that inhabited the days when things were fresh and my mind quickened at such a swift pace, were the very things now fetching a premium. The deeper the connection went, the more I wanted these things, and – yes – it was out of a desire to recapture that feeling of the good days of my youth.

This was further heightened by being in Atlantic City, where I spent time during certain summers of my childhood, which I’ve written about before. There I was not more than a mile from the apartment building on the Boardwalk where my Aunt Dot lived, within eyeshot of the hotels that my brothers and I would run through, seeking out the arcades. The sights, the smells and all the things that make those days stick out so clearly in my memory were available for anyone with enough do-re-mi to buy and take home. Boy oh boy, how I wanted them.

As my head swam, between talking with customers, dealers and other show staff, I understood clearly why the world of antiques mainly appeals to people with, um … How can I put this? Let’s see … people with a few miles on their odometer.

All the talk about getting the “younger” generation, especially the current one, interested in antiques is, frankly, unrealistic. How can you interest people in something they have no developed connection to? How can you interest the young people of today – with so much technical savvy and such a premium on the new, maybe more than any generation before them – in such things, when the men and women of Generation-X are just now getting a taste for the material of their past?

Here’s what I say: Don’t begrudge time.

If I was part of the current under-30 crowd, I’d only have eyes for what I’ve known growing up: constant, unyielding technological innovation and change. Fifteen or 20 years from now, when those first cell phones and video game systems start fetching premium dollars and premium nostalgia, it’s a sure bet we’ll see those people walking the aisles of shows and shops and sitting in the seats of auctions – in person or at their computers. Just wait. Wait. If this business of nostalgia can hold on, adjust, and see what’s coming, we’ll all be fine.

If not, well … the world of antiques itself becomes an untouched, unpolished relic, languishing in a corner, in need of a little TLC and lacking someone, anyone, to give it a little shine, which we all need from time to time.

Noah Fleisher