Some collectibles – but certainly not all – are now more affordable in these bad economic times

The antiques and collectibles market has undergone a change in the last several months. With higher energy bills, higher grocery bills and pretty much higher everything, collectors have less and less cash to spend on antiques. Demand for antiques and collectibles has effectively gone down. I say effectively because collectors still want to purchase the pieces they love just as much as ever, but most just don’t have the funds. The end result is the same – collectors are purchasing fewer antiques. Lesser demand means less competition and lower prices. This doesn’t apply to all antiques, but certain types of items are more affordable in these bad economic times than they were a few years ago.

Several months ago, I noticed a steady increase in the number of good buys I found in my areas of interest. It’s a bit like the clock has been turned back on certain types of antiques and collectibles. I’ve collected stoneware since I was a boy. When I was a teenager, I bought every stoneware jar I could find (in good condition) if it sold for $8 or less. As prices increased, I purchased fewer and fewer pieces until finally the supply of $8 jars was gone. Not many years ago, those jars were selling from $25-$35 each. Now, it’s as if the old days have come again. Last weekend I purchased a dozen apple butter jars and jugs for under $8 each. While I consider my finds the exception and not the rule, they are evidence that such bargains are out there. What I’ve found in greater abundance are good stoneware jars priced at $15-$20 – a very good price indeed.

Graniteware is another area that has offered some good buys of late. I’ve spotted several small gray graniteware coffee pots for about $25, pie pans for $6-$8, and funnels for $10. Many other common pieces of graniteware are more affordable now than they have been in years. Even some of the blue and white comes up for very reasonable prices.

I’ve long had a fondness for spinning wheels and, in recent months, I’ve spotted some real deals. I couldn’t pass up a walking wheel (a large spinning wheel also known as a wood wheel) when it sold at auction for $70. At a flea market, I found a small flax wheel for $80. I’ve spotted other walking wheels for around $150. It’s been very difficult to control myself. Not long ago, such low prices were not to be found except in the rarest of circumstances.

Some of you are no doubt thinking “That’s all well and good, but I don’t collect stoneware, graniteware or spinning wheels.” The good news is that these aren’t the only areas that now offer better buys. I’ve spotted good deals in many different collecting areas.

Before I go on, let me make a few points as a disclaimer.

1) Is the antiques market about to crash? No. If the economy or world situation gets so bad that the antiques market crashes, it will be the least of our worries. The antiques market is not like the stock market. It operates on a more simple principle of supply and demand, and is not nearly as affected by speculation and not at all by corporate takeover. So rest easy.

2) Should one expect to find lower prices on everything? No. One can expect to find lower prices on some items, but by no means all. Most antiques and collectibles sell well even in bad economic times. That’s one reason they are considered a good investment. It’s only a small percentage of antiques and collectibles that take a hit when times are hard.

3) Will prices keep going down? Probably not. No one can predict the future, but it’s extremely unlikely that the prices on antiques will plummet. There are better buys available now than there have been for years, but this means pieces are available for a little less than in the past. This brings us to our next point.

4) Should one expect to find incredible bargains? No. There are some incredible bargains to be found, but these, as always, are the exception to the rule. Sellers aren’t going to slash their prices to the bone because sales are a little slow. The antiques market isn’t like the retail sales market. Pieces aren’t initially priced at artificially high levels so they can be put on sale at deep discounts.

What pieces can now be found at better prices? There are two types to keep an eye out for in every collecting area – common items and pieces that serve no practical purpose.

The prices on many common items have come down because those are the pieces usually purchased by collectors with limited funds. It is those collectors who now have less money than ever to spend on antiques. This means less demand, less competition and therefore, lower prices. Quality pieces are not as affected by bad economic times. There are exceptions to every rule, but any choice piece, any rare antique, or any item especially in demand isn’t going to be any cheaper now than it was a few years ago. The collectors who buy such items still have the money to do so. Advanced collectors with more modest collecting funds will still go after these pieces, too. They’ll just buy fewer of them.

Items that serve no practical purpose take a hit in bad economic times simply because collectors can do without them. While it can be argued that a great many antiques and collectibles serve no practical purpose beyond providing beauty and enjoyment (quite purpose enough in my opinion), certain items do stand out. Spinning wheels are one of them. Very few collectors actually make use of their spinning wheels. For most collectors, a spinning wheel serves no practical purpose. When times are hard, such an item is easy to do without. This means less demand, less competition and lower prices.

My main concern in writing this column is that I’ll give the impression that there is a huge bargain basement sale in progress for all antiques and collectibles. Hopefully, my disclaimers have made their point, but let me restate that most antiques and collectibles are unaffected by bad economic times. There are better buys now on many items than there have been in years, but collectors should keep their expectations reasonable. Think of it this way – would you sell your beloved treasures for a song? Of course not! Don’t attend antique shows, shops, auctions and flea markets expecting deep discounts. Just be aware that there are more good deals out there than there were a few years ago. Chances are the situation will continue for some time, but one can’t expect it to last forever. The very fact that prices are lower on some pieces will create a greater demand, which will eventually increase prices. It’s a neverending cycle that no one can truly predict.

Mark Roeder has been writing a syndicated column about the antiques world for more than 10 years.