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What's Hot In Antique & Decorative Arts

The 50th anniversary of the moon landing, mid-century modern and vintage clothing are among the most popular areas for young and old buyers alike according to the Antique & Decorative Arts annual survey from the Asheford Institute of Antiques.
Time magazine's July 25, 1969, commemorative issue of the moon landing.

Time magazine's July 25, 1969, commemorative issue of the moon landing.

The 50th anniversary of the lunar landing was one of the major influences on the Antique & Decorative Arts market last year, according to the annual survey of the Asheford Institute of Antiques.

The ever-popular mid-century modern category and the rapidly growing vintage clothing market also highlighted survey results by Asheford, which offers an internationally recognized and industry accredited instructional curriculum involving the study of antiques, vintage items, collectibles, estate sale liquidations and professional-level appraising services.

The Decorative Arts Trends survey, conducted from January 2019 to December 2019 by the research staff at the Asheford Institute, sampled more than 2,000 current students and past graduates actively employed or working with the antiques, collectibles and vintage marketplace within the U.S. and Canada.

The focus of the survey was directed toward interest in current market trends based on sales and requests for particular items/genre/periods from customers and clients. The survey was informal, and therefore did not employ any standardized or measurable scientific practices or criteria in obtaining results. Survey results were categorized by the age groups of the “proprietors,” indicating item/genre/period specific preferences most popular to each of these groupings. The survey established the following age groupings: 20-40, 40-60 and 60-80.

While the survey did not include specific geographic comparables, the terms North East (NE), South East (SE), North West (NW) and South West (SW), were used where applicable to indicate particularly strong interest in item/genre/periods. Listings without these abbreviated notations indicate positive interest in “all” geographic locations.

Vintage clothing remains highly desirable with consumers of all ages.

Vintage clothing remains highly desirable with consumers of all ages, especially the 20-40 age group.

Age 20-40

1. Textiles: Vintage clothing, to be more precise, has exploded all over the world. So much so, that even major clothing retailers are opening up their own vintage stores under their own brand name. Vintage jeans, sneakers and outwear are leading the pack, but high-end dresses and hand-bags are close behind. Dealers who are incorporating this into their stock with other vintage and antique items are reporting exceptionally strong sales. Other areas under this moniker include rugs, quilts, tapestries, etc.

2. Space-Related Collectibles: NASA’s 50-year commemoration of the moon landing launched virtually every space-related collectible into orbit last summer. Many dealers reported massive mark-ups on selected items – especially those that had a direct connection to the actual mission; including photos, posters, signatures and toys (*Note: this anomaly will likely prove a statistical outlier in the future due to the time-sensitive nature of the occasion). Also along for the ride were Star Wars and Star Trek collectibles, and virtually all other forms of sci-fi memorabilia; especially items related to rocket ships. While this collectible category managed only second in this age group, it took the top spot in every other grouping, thereby making it the number one antique and vintage category for 2019.

3. Mid-Century Modern: While mid-century modern may have slipped a notch or two, its overall appeal with buyers and collectors is still by and large the biggest within the decorative arts community. Once just the domain of furniture enthusiasts, mid-century modern has spread to all areas of the collecting marketplace including kitchenware, objects d’art, jewelry and even paintings and sculptures. Aside from the classic designers such as Gehry, Jacobsen, and Eames, many lesser known names have also become popular – diamond metal work chairs by Harry Bertoia, cone-chairs by Verner Panton, and knock-off chaise loungers from Charlotte Perriand have all skyrocketed in value.

4. Costume Jewelry: There seems to be no end in sight to the public’s fascination for costume jewelry. Ranking overall at second last year, this area of collecting continues to remain strong across all age groups of collectors and buyers. Major auction houses continue to offer important sales, and designer names such as Bogoff, Barcley and Trifari are all in high demand by dealers and buyers alike. Online vintage stores and antiques shops continue to indicate that finding sufficient stock is proving a challenge in some parts of the country due to the ongoing popularity of the genre.

5. Toys: Toys, regardless of age, seem to be a perennial favorite among collectors. This category has continued to rise in price and interest, as younger dealers invest heavily in the toys of their youth. Particularly popular this year were many Marvel Comic-related items and figures, which saw hefty increases in value due in large part to accompanying movies releases. Also near the top of the list were items from the 1960s through the 1990s, such as original in-box Super-Soaker Guns, G.I. Joe sets, Batman action figures and anything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Note: space-related toys and collectibles were grouped under a separate category for 2019).

6. Vinyl Records: The original delivery format for rock ’n’ roll, vinyl records were also big on buyers lists this year, as collectors clamored for rare examples of original presses, which for the first time in decades actually outsold CDs. Examples from The Beatles’ “White Album,” anything Elvis Presley, The Sex Pistols, and Bob Dylan’s “Freewheelin’” album topped the charts for many collectors. Original, pristine album jackets are a must for top prices.

Depending on condition, the 1967 original soundtrack album from the Elvis Presley movie "Clambake" could be worth as much as $350.

Depending on condition, the 1967 original soundtrack album from the Elvis Presley movie "Clambake" could be worth as much as $350.

7. Memorabilia (ephemera): Pop memorabilia, especially songs and playlists connected to a famous band or musician again showed strongly this year. Travel related ephemera – items such as travel brochures, posters, ticket stubs, and even menus from famous cruise lines such as Cunard and White Star – moved to the plus side, as did original movie posters from the ’60s and ’70s. Early board games were also in demand.

8. Lighting: While virtually all areas of lighting remained popular, from the 1920s right through to the 1980s, custom made lights in the industrial and Steampunk motif took off, with show-dealers reporting strong sales across the board on these unique handmade pieces. Colored glass shades were popular again, while the mainstay of chrome and stainless steel from the 1930s through to the ’80s continued its dominance of the antique and vintage markets. 1970’s globe lighting also sparkled, as did 1980’s copper-themed pendant lights, with many dealers also noting a more pronounced move toward copper in 2019. (NE) (NW) (SE)

9. Western Collectibles: Another rising star of the decorative arts market over the last three years, Western-themed collectibles have enjoyed marked valuation increases across the board recently, jumping four spots in the survey. Lesser known artists such as Frank Johnson, Bert Greer Phillips and E.W. Gollings were all strong performers, as were the more famous works from Catlin, Bierstadt and Remington. Cowboy art of any kind showed and sold well in many galleries, as did auction photos of Gold Rush scenes, famous gunslingers, and towns. Also popular: leather gun holsters, belts with engraved buckles, silver spurs and leather stage-coach trunks.

10. Paintings/Sculptures: Brutalist mid-century metal sculptures from the likes of Jere and Tom Greene are extremely hot, as are 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 extremely well. Lesser known painters from this era, such as DeGlopper, Bruneau and Siebert, are also showing strongly according to a number of poll respondent’s from dealers in the northeast. (NE) (SW) (NW)

11. Early Americana/Canadiana: Up four spots from last year, early pioneer furniture appears to be on the upswing as younger dealers are reporting a renewed interest from buyers who want simple and sustainable to blend with their modern surroundings and “clean” lifestyle. Blanket boxes, smaller hutches, narrow two-board harvest tables, simple metal farm implements, small condo-friendly chests-of-drawers, and reproduction honey-colored pine coffee tables are all making the list when it comes to primitives. (NE) (SW) (NW)

12. Glass: While down four spots this year, some glass categories actually over performed, at least according to a number of west coast dealers who say the art glass market continues to be strong with not only collectors, but with general consumers as well. Its bold colors and fanciful shapes that can blend with virtually every design palette (including modern) are likely contributing factors to this genre’s continued marketplace success. On the flip side of the spectrum, pressed glass remains stuck in the doldrums, as do most other forms of non-vintage or non-retro inspired pieces. Still, some dealers report stockpiling Depression glass due to its plentiful supply and low cost, in the hopes of seeing a profit at a later date. (SW) (SE) (NE)

13. Art Nouveau: Sales continue to remain steady 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 within the mid-century format making them especially desirable to young and hip urbanites. Dealers say they’ve noted a continuing shortage of good available stock and a subsequent rise in “asking” prices from pickers and other dealers as a result of this demand. (NE) (SW) (NW)

14. Art Deco: Although Art Deco looked poised to have a breakthrough last year, younger dealers who invested in those early stirrings say they’ve seen flat sales over the last 12 months. Many blame the oversaturation of the mid-century modernist theme for squeezing out the more common Art Deco pieces. However, higher-end accent items, such as lighting, clocks and decorative objects, including jewelry, appear to be selling reasonably well. (NE) (NW) (SW)

Age 40-60

1. Space Related Collectibles (NASA & Apollo Moon Landing): Many dealers in this category stated they were just old enough to remember watching the lunar landing on television and were struck by how the 50-year commemoration inspired them to search for items related to the event. From photos of the engines test site, to medallions and medals, along with first-run copies of Time magazine’s cover, and figurine sets, dealers say they left no stone unturned when it came to sourcing inventory. Most report that stock was snapped up quickly and sold quickly, garnering extremely high profit margins on the majority of sales.

2. Mid-Century Modern: While mid-century received some challenges this year, its ranking remained firm, only narrowly losing its top position to the lunar frenzy by a hair. Dealers noted that while furniture sales were still strong, interest in all things mid-century modern grew at a much faster rate. Jewelry ranked as one of the most popular aspects of this category, along with lighting, paintings, accent pieces and objects d’art.

A mid-century modern Charles and Ray Eames lounge chair (model no. 670) with ottoman (model no. 671) produced by Herman Miller continues to be an enticing look.

A mid-century modern Charles and Ray Eames lounge chair (model no. 670) with ottoman (model no. 671) produced by Herman Miller continues to be an enticing look.

3. Textiles: As mentioned previously, vintage clothing has taken off. Sites such as Etsy, with a demographic of younger dealers, have no doubt fueled mainstream interest, but older textile connoisseurs have begun to take notice, and moved the bar up a notch. Dresses and gowns from American designer James Galanos, whose high-end work matched the best of Europe’s elite couture are examples of pieces that can command handsome sums, with many dealers reporting a three-fold increase in price and demand over the last year.

4. Costume Jewelry: Dropping two spots this season appears to have had little effect on available inventory for dealers. For the last two years many in the business have complained of not being able to find quality stock, and little seems to have changed this year as supplies of good vintage and antique costume jewelry remain scarce, while prices remain high. Even lesser known marquee designers such as Haskell, Carnegie, Florenza, Kramer and Coventry are also becoming harder to source at reasonable prices say many dealers. For those that do find inventory, sales are brisk.

5. Early Americana/Canadiana: Despite dropping a point this year, most rural dealers acknowledge that the trend for rustic furniture is continuing to rise, with many dealers pointing to a return of wood-inspired finishes on many interior pieces such as tables and chests of drawers. Chalk paint finishes that were popular with the urban crowd seem to have run their course, as more and more dealers say customers are looking to the warmth of wood again to offset the cold and sometimes austere nature of the modern motif. Traditional favorites that are back include; harvest tables, flat-to-the-walls, large wooden grain-scales, and simple pine blanket boxes. (NE) (SE) (NW)

6. Automobilia/Petrolina: Although considered a niche collectible by many, a number of antiques and vintage dealers report that sales of such items continue to show sustained growth, while availability of top-shelf inventory remains low. Television shows such as American Pickers have no doubt fueled this interest in the past, but many dealers feel the growth of auto and motorcycle related collectibles is here to stay. Competition amongst dealers for the best-of-the-best in this category from auto emblems and signage, to oil cans and gas pumps remains tight, with prices expected to rise.

7. Lighting: Moving way up the charts from last year, dealers in this category also reported strong sales in virtually every era for lighting. Desk models, floor lamps, table lamps and even chandeliers all posted strong sales according to many of the survey’s respondents. While mid-century modern styles were often prevalent when it came to popularity, dealers also indicated that late Victorian-inspired pieces were also moving well. (NE) (NW) (SW)

8. Victorian: Aside from textiles, no other traditional category has made such a dramatic move up the charts this past year than items from the Victorian era – at least according to a number of antiques show dealers and east coast pickers. Dealers are reporting that cash-poor millennials have started snapping up cheaply priced Victorian pieces as an alternative to buying new, and with an eye to helping the environment. Practical items from tables and benches, to chests-of-drawers and chairs took top billing, but dealers also noted that quirky pieces and decorative items were also starting to sell well. (NE) (SE) (NW)

9. Dinnerware: It’s no surprise that while there are many popular decades for this category (including the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s), it’s mid-century modern that still reigns supreme. Popular mid-century producers such as Eva Zeisel’s Hallcraft lines, and Russell Wright’s ceramic 6-color set have all reached new highs over the past year as collectors and dealers clamor for the best possible examples. Star-burst patterns continue to lead the pack, and dealers report strong sales in virtually every category.

Costume jewelry seemingly never goes out of style with collectors, keeping the category in demand.

Costume jewelry seemingly never goes out of style with collectors, keeping the category in demand.

10. Jewelry: Traditional gemstones and precious metals have also gained favor this past year, as evidenced by recent sales results from major auction houses. All periods and styles seem to be selling well – with a strong emphasis on Mid-Century Modern pieces – especially those with pearls.

11. Paintings: While mid-century modern has taken the limelight in virtually every category for the past decade, including paintings, there are some notable changes occurring within this age group. Older dealers are indicating that Victorian oils and watercolors are again sparking interest in a younger crowd that may be turning away from the modern motif. Gilded frames, country scenes and even portraits are reportedly selling well. Overscale abstract mid-century modern paintings however, still rule the roost when it comes to overall sales.

12. Architectural Antiques: For use in interiors either as accent pieces, or faux architectural structures (think old chippy painted columns near an entrance way or along the sides of a fireplace mantle). Other popular sellers include balusters, moldings, doors, old windows (stained glass), railings, etc. (NE) (SW) (NW)

13. Folk Art: Primarily popular in the North East, dealers have indicated a steady interest by seasoned collectors who know what they’re looking for and appear to be collecting with a long-term goal in mind. While prices have been depressed over the past decade, some dealers say that margins are increasing as competition amongst buyers for rare pieces is starting to heat up. Sculptures, hand-carved nautical ships, and primitive whirligigs are all on the upswing. (NE)

14. Glass: Early forms of art glass have reportedly soared in popularity, as have some types of glass from the late Victorian era. However, many dealers indicate that virtually all other types of glassware sales have remained flat throughout the year.

Age 60-80

1. Space Related Collectibles (NASA & Apollo Moon Landing): Many of the older dealers within this age category have strong memories of the Apollo mission, and appear to have been the most proactive when it came to allocating resources for procuring some of the better collectible items related to the event. Signed photos from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldren and Michael Collins, were all top sellers, as were press kits, moon landing buttons and lunar module handbooks. These dealers all reported strong sales and in some cases bidding wars over select items.

2. Chairs: Last year’s winner in this category managed to hold onto second place in 2019, despite a strong overall showing from mid-century modern. Prior to this year’s poll, dealers from this category had shown little engagement in the mid-century movement, but that appears to have changed, with many of the senior dealers indicating that a foray into modern forms had been extremely beneficial, especially when it came to chairs. Mid-century modern examples of egg-chairs, Barcelona-chairs, butterfly-chairs, ball-chairs and wishbone-chairs were all well received, with healthy yearlong sales results. Fancifully reupholstered Victorian parlor and side chairs were also reported to have sold well.

A wing lounge chair designed and manufactured by Vladimir Kagan.

A wing lounge chair designed and manufactured by Vladimir Kagan.

3. Mid-Century Modern: Climbing from ninth to fourth place in 2019 consolidated the move of senior antiques and vintage dealers into the mid-century market. Responses to the poll’s questionnaire indicated a strong investment in this area overall, but especially from well-known designers such as Eero Aarnio, Eames, Norell and others. Smaller high-end sculptural objects and paintings were also sought after to help round out inventory requirements.

4. Chinese Antiques: This area of collecting continues to be the bread & butter for many high-end antique dealers. Sales continue to be robust, but dealers warn of the difficulty in obtaining authentic pieces as reproductions are rampant, and those that are available, tend to be bought up by Chinese nationals as part of a repatriation effort. However, the market continues to evolve and grow, with recent sales of bronze figures, and porcelain objects from dynasties such as the Ch’ing setting record prices for even average objects. Demand has also moved beyond the traditional porcelain pieces, as rugs, furniture, and virtually anything that can be shown to have some connection to the mainland’s past is selling quickly. (SW) (NW) (NE)

5. Georgian (Style) Furniture: Long depressed, Georgian furniture appears to be making a comeback. Major auction houses are once again conducting “important” sales, and market indicators from poll respondents in this age group are showing a steady resurgence of interest from upscale buyers. Recent pricing figures for top-of-the-line pieces suggests that the worst may be over for this decorative arts stalwart, as quality examples of hall tables, chairs, dining room tables, and sideboards are reportedly selling quite well in the (NE) and (SE). Dealers from other regions are also indicating that the “brown-furniture” movement may finally be gaining traction with the public again, as prices appear to be on the rise.

6. Automobilia/Petrolina: The advent of hybrid and electric cars appears to have had little effect on the public’s old-school interest in combustion-related collectibles. Baby boomers of a certain age continue to prop up prices in this category, as dealers report strong sales figures for almost anything associated with the genre; signage from gas companies, oil cans, promotional clocks, decals, road maps, and license plates are just a few of the more collectible items that dealers indicate are selling well.

7. Victorian: Elder statesmen of the antiques and vintage trade seem to concur with younger dealers that Victorian era furniture may once again be on the rise. Senior respondents to the poll indicated that for the second year in a row interest and sales of Victorian pieces had increased substantially over the prior year. Leading the charge were utilitarian items ranging from drop-leaf tables, bookshelves, bookcases, what-nots, hutches, washstands and even a return to some ornate pieces from the era. Top quality examples are setting the pace and selling first. (NE)

8. Paintings: On a related note, dealers have also indicated a renewed interest in Victorian-era paintings. Oils and watercolors that until recently had been relegated to storage or back-room displays, have apparently earned a fresh start, as classic landscapes and portraits from the era appear to be generating new buzz from a new crowd. Though still moderately priced, dealers say they’re just happy to see them moving out the door. (NE) (NW)

9. Mirrors: Primarily Victorian era. Both small and plain, along with oversized ornamental examples for hallways and above mantle settings. Also, metal framed from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. (NE) (NW) (SW)

10. Western Collectibles: As mentioned previously, this area of collecting seems to be popular with a number of surveyed dealers and pickers. However, it is also fraught with fakes and reproductions, as legitimate works by famous artists such as Remington can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. While dealers report strong sales for legitimate pieces, they also note a lack of available stock at reasonable prices. Lesser known artists from this genre are also beginning to see higher valuations for their work. (SW) (NE)

11. Lighting: Early 20th century metal lamps of all types and shapes, along with mid-century modern desk lamps, remain popular with collectors and buyers. However, more traditional Victorian style lamps with leaded glass, fret-worked bases and even floor lamps, are beginning to creep back onto the decorative arts scene according to some dealers.

12. Garden Antiques: Outdoor living sets have become popular recently, with antique wicker and mid-century modern pieces topping many lists. Period correct mid-century patio furniture such as folding rope-chairs, iron frame butterfly chairs, and hoop-chairs are highly sought after, with demand outstripping supply in many cases.

13. Architectural Elements: Such as smaller Italian marble pieces, along with fragments from carved panels, have become popular as decorative items for walls. Supply varies by region. (NE)

14. Silver: Although silver remains popular with core collectors, dealers report that sales for services, flatware, plates and objects d’art remain at a standstill. High-end pieces will sell, but for a fraction of what they once did.