What Happens When Our Antiques Collections Plummet in Value?

Tires kicked up gravel and dust as I skidded to a stop. The “Antique Extravaganza” appeared to be over, though the clock read just 12:30. The majority of vendors were packing up and moving out. Disappointment surged through me as I quizzed the first dealer.

“We’ve been here since 4:30 this morning. By 12:30, we’re done in,” he said.

I’d be “done in” too, if I’d been up since o-dark-thirty. Scanning the stalls, I realized last-minute scrounging would yield little. Turning to leave the area, a display of Flow Blue caught my eye. Six soup bowls in the Touraine pattern lined the shelf of a Welsh dresser.

Too quickly, the proprietor offered me the entire set for $140 — a steal! Even with the nasty chip along the rim of one bowl, this seemed too good to be true. With a painful jolt, I recalled the last time I shopped for Flow Blue. Ten years ago, I paid $95 for just one soup bowl in this exact same pattern.

Every collector has experienced the joy of discovering the perfect item at the right price to round out their collection. But what happens when our “treasures” plummet in value? How do we adjust after realizing our prized antiques have depreciated into expensive dust collectors?

As a dealer and collector, I had to know. Has the value of antique porcelain and glass dropped THAT much?
My mission defined, I rescanned the horizon. Dealers were wrapping up glassware of all types, American brilliant-cut glass, old jugs and crockery, Fiestaware, transferware and jadeite. You name it, and I saw it — lots of it.

I abandoned the Touraine soup bowls. The disappointed owner let loose a stream of tobacco juice when he realized I wasn’t buying. I guess he no longer felt any obligation to be polite.

The nearby antique mall was packed with buyers hungry for bargains. Extremely wide aisles accounted for the high number of furniture dealers. There was very little oak or pine furniture; most pieces were cherry, walnut or mahogany and dated from 1850 through 1900. I found no deals or fire sales here. As always, items in pristine condition commanded the highest prices and proudly wore SOLD tags.

For information on where to buy and sell antiques and collectibles, visit our Trusted List of Antiques Auction Houses.

Determined to continue my quest about the value of glassware and porcelain, I headed to the next mall. Here I found a two-piece American brilliant-cut glass punch bowl about 20 inches high. Tagged at $325, I recalled a similar one I almost bought about six years ago for $695. I dodged that bullet!

The next aisle showcased more Flow Blue. I found the Waldorf pattern, 19 pieces to be exact, including a platter and two vegetable bowls for only $195. Am I hallucinating?

At the end of the next aisle, cardboard boxes lined the floor of the last booth. An obvious invitation to rummage, I dug in and extricated a cast-iron toy consisting of two horses pulling a wagon. The paint and parts appeared to be original.

Because I diligently read my Antique Trader, I knew these cast-iron beauties could rake in a pretty penny. Thinking I’d found the mother lode and my reason for driving 150 miles, I shelled out the $100 asking price without so much as a blink or a haggle.

Am I a slick dealer or what?

Energized by my windfall, I practically ran into the next mall but came to a screeching halt when the glare from the overhead lights blinded me. Never before have I been surrounded by display cases that were so tall and crammed with so much glassware. I felt like Alice peering through the proverbial looking glass, dizzied from the plethora of mirrors that lined these monoliths and relentlessly reflected back my frazzled image.

Ugh! Is it time to go home yet?

After my eyes and equilibrium adjusted, my vision settled on a tagged Lalique perfume decanter. Standing about nine inches tall with three nudes applied (or is that appliquéd?) on the front side, it reeked of the Art Deco era, one of my favorites. If I’d had an extra $750 in my wallet, this beauty would have a new home today. (If you’re interested, I know where it is.)

Four hours into my “quest,” I had my answer. While I wasn’t looking, the value of many glassware and porcelain items has dropped by as much as 50 percent. So what’s the moral of this story? Collect what you love and forget about the potential return on your investment, because it may not happen. If it does, your grandchildren may reap the financial benefit, not you.

And that cast-iron toy I thought I might retire on? According to an expert who examined a dozen e-mailed photographs, my toy is about 90 years old, was made by a very common manufacturer and is worth, no, wait for it … here it comes: $100.

Told you I was slick! ?

Melanie C. Thomas has nearly 20 years of experience researching, buying and selling military memorabilia. She and her husband run Arsenal of the Alleghenys, a Civil War artifact shop in Gettysburg, Pa.

You might also enjoy more from Melanie C. Thomas:

•   Letter to the Civil War collector
•  Brimfield antiques show is a social equalizer

•  AT Blog: How America lost its $50 billion furniture industry

Views of the July 2010 Brimfield Antiques Show from AntiqueAuctionPodcast.com


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Melanie C. Thomas

About Melanie C. Thomas

Melanie C. Thomas has more than 20 years experience researching, buying and selling military memorabilia. She and her husband run Arsenal of the Alleghenys, a Civil War artifact shop in Gettysburg, Pa., 717- 334-1122, arsenal-1@embarqmail.com or arsenalofthealleghenys.com.