All things Art Deco, modular pieces from the 1970s and smaller-sized items emerged as top collecting trends, according to Asheford Institute of Antique’s newly released 2020 survey of top buying trends within the antiques, vintage and collectibles marketplace.
While COVID 19 had an effect on people’s buying and collecting habits over the past twelve months, survey results show that, while many trends remained the same, new collector categories emerged, with some surging in popularity, as people found themselves spending more time at home and in front of their computers.
The research staff of the institute, which has been doing the industry-related survey for more than twelve years, conducted the latest one from January to December 2020. The survey consisted of a sampling of more than 2,163 current students and past graduates that are actively employed or working within the antiques, collectibles and vintage marketplaces within the United States and Canada (both urban and rural areas). All those who participated in the survey operate their own antiques and vintage, or estate sale/appraisal businesses, including online.
The focus of the survey was directed toward interest in current market trends, based on sales and requests for particular items, genre and periods from customers and clients.
But the 2020 sampling process took on a slightly different look, due to the pandemic, as only dealers and sellers who remained open for at least eight months of the twelve-month period were invited to participate.
While 2020 was an unusual year for dealers, there were still plenty of surprises to be found in the results, as many of last year’s top-selling themes gave way to items from a different period, and purchases that tended to be smaller in scale. The mid-century motif continues to remain strong, but rival sectors, including 1970s modular-pieces and literally everything Art Deco also rose to new heights.
“Despite the difficulties with COVID, we’re continuing to ask questions that will hopefully further illuminate the specific sales categories and industry practices that have been most profitable for antique and vintage dealers over the past year,” said Institute Director Charles Green. “Being able to provide our students and readers with as much pertinent information as possible about what’s selling in a particular geographic region, and how they can apply that data to help grow their own antique and vintage business has always been key to the survey.”
According to the survey, which is broken down into three age categories, the top buying trend for people age 20 to 40 was Art Deco; Art Deco and period jewelry were tops with people age 40 to 60; and mid-century modern was the top trend with people 60 to 80.
“Sometimes a trend just appears out of the blue,” said Amber Shole, a research assistant on the school’s polling team. “(2019’s) collectible craze over everything space-related took us by surprise, but last year, it was an old favorite that suddenly returned to prominence with both collectors and buyers alike.”
As past surveys have shown, there are always going to be a few perennial poll favorites, like Mid-Century Modern and costume jewelry, but Shole notes that changes are happening faster than expected. “We’ve seen the softening of the Mid-Century motif as trends continue to shift to less austere designs, and more comforting wood palettes begin to return.” While Shole notes that Mid-Century items continue to be hot with younger buyers, she says that older more established areas of collecting are beginning to gain back some ground. “Last year we saw millennials starting to look at Victorian items, and buyers along the east coast show renewed interest in formal pieces from the Georgian period.”
While the school’s 2020 poll may have been skewed slightly by the effects of Covid and temporary lockdowns, Shole believes that despite these shortcomings, this year’s survey clearly demonstrates that trends can literally pop out of nowhere - even during a pandemic. “What we’ve seen over the last few years are not only younger dealers, but younger buyers as well. They tend to set the stage for new trends, and once in motion, they seem to find a great deal of traction with the buying public.”
Top Trends for 2020
Asheford's survey reported the Top 14 categories for each age group, but we are only including the Top 10. Complete survey results can be found here.
While the survey did not include specific geographic comparables, the terms North East (NE), South East (SE), North West (NW), and South West (SW) are used where applicable to indicate particularly strong interest. Listings without these abbreviated notations indicate positive interest in all geographic locations.
Antique and Vintage Business Proprietors, Age 20-40
1. Art Deco
While most dealers in this category acknowledged that they probably sold more mid-century modern during this period than Art Deco, they also acknowledged that the demand and prices for good quality Deco pieces outstripped supply. A number of survey respondents indicated that had their inventory of Art Deco been sufficient, they would’ve easily surpassed their MCM sales over the same period. All the more interesting is the fact that this category ranked at the bottom within its grouping last year. As with almost all dealers who reported in, sales of smaller items such as clocks, jewelry, lighting and decorative objects were far and away the year’s biggest sellers, with conventional furniture and large case pieces lagging well behind.
2. Mid-Century Modern
Although technically a tie with Art Deco in this category, its range and appeal with younger buyers and collectors continues to remain strong across the board. However, dealers did note that due to the pandemic, buying was more heavily weighted toward “smalls” and carry-home items rather than larger pieces of furniture. Of particular interest to buyers seemed to be kitchen collectibles, jewelry, wall-art, paintings, sculptures and general objects d’art. Kitschy wall-art designers such as Erwin Walter Burger, and sculptors like Aldo Londi have seen dramatic price increases for their work in recent years. Furniture prices, while still high, remained mostly stable especially for classic designers such as Gehry, Jacobsen and Eames. (NE) (NW) (SW)
3. Costume Jewelry
On the heels of the increase in popularity of Art Deco and period jewelry, many in-store and online dealers reported brisk sales of costume jewelry again this year. For almost the third straight season, there appears to be no end in sight to the public’s fascination and demand for this collectible as interest remains strong across all age groups for top designer names including Dior, Sarah Coventry, Carnegie, Coro and Eisenberg. Pins, brooches and necklaces led many dealers lists for must haves.
While still popular, the drop from first to fourth over the last twelve months may have more to do with COVID than with a lack of sustained interest in used clothing. Vintage threads continue to remain popular with the younger generation. Vintage jeans (Levi’s especially), sneakers (think Nike and Adidas), and ’70s name-brand outerwear are in demand, as are couture dresses and designer handbags. Other areas include rugs, quilts, tapestries, etc.
5. 1970s Modular Furniture and Objects d’Art
Another rising star of the decorative arts market over the last couple of years has been the call for 1970s plastic modular furniture. While past demand has flourished primarily along urban coastal settings, many dealers are reporting an east to west uptick in interest across all geographic regions. Even with the pandemic’s negative effect on overall furniture sales, many younger dealers in this category have indicated stronger than expected results for larger in-store items despite COVID’s effect on foot-traffic. Leading the pack are one-piece space-age molded “Tulip” chairs, rounded and curved wall-units, and the ubiquitous Lucite and mirrored waterfall tables so common to suburban households during this period. Condition is key when it comes to plastic, but prices are climbing quickly, even for so-so examples.
6. Space-Related Collectibles
Dealers felt that space-related memorabilia would have fallen off the charts by now after last year’s NASA moon landing commemoration, but sales numbers have remained strong with younger buyers in the collectible community, which many attribute to the ongoing popularity of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and NASA’s new Artemis Project. The popular Star Wars spin-off show, The Mandalorian, hasn’t hurt interest either, at least according to dealers specializing in this collecting area. SpaceX posters and Falcon toy rockets are all selling well above market, as are Star Wars and Star Trek memorabilia that have direct connections to newly released shows. However, greatly reduced numbers of estate and garage sales are affecting some dealers’ ability to procure stock at reasonable prices.
Dealers say those stuck at home have been snapping up old toys like hotcakes, especially online. Prices have climbed for many childhood favorites, but particularly in demand have been vintage board games such as Backgammon, Ouija, Monopoly, Risk, and virtually anything from Milton Bradley. Classics, such as wind-up toys, tin trains, along with diecast cap guns and cars are all making the grade, with steep increases in valuations for even modest examples. There is also new demand for action figures and franchise-driven toys from the 1970s like Stretch Armstrong and Evel Knievel’s “Stunt Cycle.”
8. Art Nouveau
Shooting up the charts by four spots from last year, dealers are experiencing renewed interest in the Art Nouveau style, with many attributing the growth to its timely connection to Art Deco’s rise in popularity. Online sales for smalls and other objects d’art have grown dramatically, according to many dealers in urban areas, as corollary interest by buyers of mid-century modern pieces seems to have sparked a return to more sinuous lines for some collectors. Art Nouveau items tend to blend easily with the mid-century format, making them especially desirable to younger urbanites. Dealers continue to note a shortage of good available stock and a subsequent rise in asking prices from pickers and other online dealers. (NE, SW, NW)
While virtually all areas of lighting remained popular, examples from the Art Deco and mid-century period were especially in demand. Steampunk and industrial, while still popular, have seen somewhat of a decrease in interest. Reflecting the growth in 1970s-era items include globe and chrome wall sconces, rounded UFO hanging pendants, double-cone desk lamps, hanging glass and aluminum chandeliers, along with plate-style space-age wall lights. Mid-century floor-lamps, pendant lights, and arc-lamps also remain popular. Classic designs from firms such as Casella, DeMajo, Sonneman and Kalmar continue to earn top prices for excellent examples. (NE, NW, SW)
Moving beyond furniture and jewelry, Art Deco also made its presence felt here as well. Prices and interest in early twentieth-century artists such as Tamara de Lempcika and famed illustrator Romain de Tirtoff also rose sharply. Brutalist mid-century metal sculptures from Fantoni, Jere and Tom Greene remained hot, as did metal wall-art creations from designers like Marc Creates. Reproductions of this style abound, with many dealers reporting contemporary pieces being made in-the-style-of as also selling well. Lesser known painters from the era, such as DeGlopper, Bruneau, and Siebert continue to remain in vogue. (NE, SW, NW)
Antique and Vintage Business Proprietors, Age 40-60
1. Art Deco, Period Jewelry
A number of dealers have indicated a strong uptick of interest in this area of collecting over the past few years. Although values have been rising steadily over the past few years, according to many Asian dealers (and auction houses), prices have suddenly skyrocketed. Interest has also been strong, particularly with Art Deco pieces, but also with late Victorian examples. Tiffany, Cartier, Bailey-Banks & Biddle, lead the Art Deco break-out, but lesser-known designers from the late Victorian period are also gaining popularity, especially for their large brooches and matching bracelets. (NE, SW, NW)
2. Mid-Century Modern
While many have predicted the demise of mid-century influence over the last few years, the numbers simply don’t bear out the assertion. Many dealers in this category continue to report that sales have remained strong, particularly for smaller pieces such as lamps, objects d’art, desk items, clocks, paper weights and art glass. Most mid-century dealers feel that furniture sales will likely rebound once walk-in traffic has been restored to pre-COVID levels. (NE, SW, NW)
Fueled in part no doubt by stay-at-home restrictions, dealers indicated that sales of signage, oil cans, auto posters, chrome grills, emblems and literally anything related to the automotive world sold quickly online. Television series such as American Pickers and classic car shows continue to demonstrate the popularity of this category. For dealers, the target demographic has consistently been baby boomers with disposable income. Growth remains strong for the fifth year in a row.
4. Costume Jewelry
Remaining constant, costume jewelry maintains its place as a perennial favorite. Dealers from this category continue to report that obtaining good quality stock remains a challenge, especially with the implementation of some COVID restrictions on garage and estate sales in certain regions. Even 1980s-era examples from designers like Kenneth Jay Lane and Vivienne Westwood are now commanding hefty sums. Prices for top-shelf pieces are high, while inventory remains low. Digital dealers said online sales have been brisk since the pandemic.
5. Folk Art
A surprise to some, but dealers along the Northeast claim that numbers have been steadily increasing over the past few years as interest once again returns to pieces from a simpler time. Mixing and matching smaller paint-faded items with modern or mid-century décor seems to be the theme. Standards such as whirligigs, wooden toys, game boards, and quilts are all showing signs of life as competition amongst dealers for the best-of-the-best in this category heats up. After a long period of depressed values, prices are expected to rise. (NE, SE, NW)
The growth of online textile dealers on sites such as Etsy and Poshmark has almost single handedly brought this category to the fore. While dealers initially tended to be younger, today online sales of vintage clothing have taken off with virtually every demographic. Seasoned textile dealers have also climbed on board, with classic offerings from such designers as Bonnie Cashin, Pucci and Ossie Clark. Demand has remained high, with some dealers reporting their best sales ever. As with other categories, supply remains tight and prices high due to some regional pandemic restrictions on inventory source sites.
7. Antique, Vintage Watches
New to the categories this year, classic wristwear seems to have taken the market by storm, especially in the men’s department. Dealers across the spectrum report soaring sales on everything from 1940s Gallet chronograph to 1960s Rolex submariners, ’70s Seiko sport watches and ’80s Omega speedmasters. Prices have almost trebled on some models over the past two years alone, and dealers are warning of an impending shortage of legitimate examples, as “cobbled together” versions frequently pop up for sale on sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace.
8. Industrial Lighting
Although overtaken by Deco and MCM among younger dealers, industrial and to a lesser extent steampunk, remained popular with more seasoned dealers. Rewired examples of late Victorian styles from factories and workshops brought up to modern specs proved popular, as did custom piping creations in the steampunk tradition. Pricing remained stable, with many dealers expressing concern about future demand outstripping supply. (NE, NW)
9. Vinyl Records
Moving up the charts, vinyl records continue to find new collectors. Classic albums and rare examples of original presses all posted strong sales, according to many of the survey’s respondents. Albums from the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Queen, and the Sex Pistols topped the billboard again, but entries from less revered musical artists like Olivia Newton-John also presented well. Adding to the demand for old vinyl were also old vintage stereos and receivers. Equipment from the likes of Kenwood, McIntosh, Dynakit, Marantz and Pioneer were all reported as selling well in a growing market.
While abstract Expressionist paintings and sculptures from the late 1940s to the early 1960s have continued to fare well over the past year, market watchers and dealers alike say that prices have flattened slightly. Many in the industry have noted that Victorian oils and watercolors are again sparking interest in a wider demographic that may be looking to blend their collections with the modern motif. Sporting country scenes with gilded frames, landscapes, and even portraits have been showing double-digit gains according to some dealers, especially for those located in the Northeast. (NE, SE)
Antique and Vintage Business Proprietors, Age 60-80
1. Mid-Century Modern
Four years ago, dealers from this category reported almost no sales of MCM, but since that time, senior dealers have been steadily adding to their mid-century stock. So much so, that many of these established vendors are now responsible for much of the higher-end pieces being sold on the market today. While poll respondents indicated that overall furniture sales had dropped somewhat in the last twelve months, smaller items such as lamps from famed designers like the Castiglioni brothers, Serge Mouille and Emil Stejnar have all shown marked increases in price over the last year.
2. Chinese Antiques
While recent political turmoil and pandemic-related issues likely had somewhat of an effect on this category for 2020, dealers generally continued to see strong numbers. Prices remained firm and demand high. Top dealers continue to warn of the spate of reproductions and of the difficulty in obtaining authentic inventory. Fan favorites such as porcelain objects from dynasties like the Ch’ing continue to set record prices for even average examples. On a more pedestrian level, traditional furniture, vases, robes, and silk paintings are also continuing to post solid gains, according to many long established dealers. (SW, NW, NE)
3. Art Deco & Period Jewelry
As with almost every other category, the surge in interest for Art Deco and period jewelry seems to be all encompassing. Many senior dealers believe the trend to AD has been in the works for some time now. Sales for top-shelf pieces from Cartier, Tiffany and Caldwell saw soaring prices at auction not only in Asia, but also in North America. Demand is not expected to peak anytime soon.
4. Victorian Paintings
Sales of oils and watercolors held steady, and genre paintings, portraits, landscapes and sporting country scenes have seen steady increases in price, while stock remains plentiful. Mid-level to unknown artists showed the most movement, while demand for top-tier painters from this era remained somewhat stagnant. (NE, NW)
While still the domain of baby boomers and fans of the ICE (internal combustion engine), dealers report that collectors of a certain age are continuing to prop up prices in this category, even though younger buyers of today’s electric cars may have no tangible association with these collectibles in the near future. Decals, die-cast model cars, gas pump globes, oil cans, signs, road maps, license plates and NASCAR and Indy memorabilia are just a few of the more collectible items that dealers indicate are holding value and selling well.
6. Folk Art
Many senior dealers have also experienced a strong resurgence of interest in this area of collecting. Paired with modern decors, primitive folk art pieces seemed to be popular with decorators looking to tone down the somewhat austere feeling of certain MCM interiors. All varieties and in all price ranges have been popular, but particularly items such as carousel horses, whirligigs, weather vanes, quilts, and even cast-iron door stops. (NE, SE)
7. Golden Oak
While poll participants reported that actual sales were not as high as anticipated due to walk-in restrictions, this seemingly anomalous outlier nevertheless appeared on many dealers’ lists. Most respondents indicated a renewed interest in golden oak furniture coming about via customer requests. Of particular note were items ranging from simple buffets, round dining tables, bookshelves, bookcases, flat-to-the-walls and pew-style benches. (SW, SE)
8. Georgian-Style Furniture
Until recently, most Georgian furniture had been relegated to dealers’ storage spaces or back-room displays, but a number of positive auction sale results this year have once again made the case for the return of Georgian furniture as a force to be reckoned with. Top-shelf pieces have posted solid sales gains year-over-year, and many long established dealers throughout the Northeast think the turning point may have finally come for this previous darling of the antiquities market to once again reestablish itself as a decorative arts leader. (NE)
Dealers from all categories have noted an uptick in demand and prices for such works, but particularly so amongst more seasoned dealers on the east coast. Victorian oils and watercolors sold well despite the pandemic, and many dealers are doubling down on the trend by attempting to source new inventory. Mid-century works by lesser known artists such as Mestres, Fred Laros, and André Pailler also sold well in this category and continue to command impressive sums. (NE, NW, SW)
10. Vintage Outdoor Furniture
As more people spent time at their homes and in their backyards this past summer, sales of vintage outdoor furniture rose sharply. From cast-iron garden chairs to refurbished wicker living/sofa sets, demand was strong. Particularly popular in this niche, according to many dealers, was period correct mid-century patio furniture that included folding rope chairs, iron-frame butterfly chairs, metal framed garden chairs, and hoop-chairs - all of which were reportedly highly sought after, with demand easily outstripping supply in many cases. (NE, NW)