What changes are you seeing in the ceramics portion of the antiques and collectibles marketplace?
inOctober 18, 2012 - 4:08am
The biggest change, especially in the antiques sector, is who is buying ceramics. During much of the 20th century, especially in the period after World War I and World War II, American collectors raided the European and Asian markets. The rise of the American middle-class, the Robber Barons and nouveau riche at the end of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, the early and mid-20th century industrialists, and post-1945 entrepreneurs viewed antiques initially as a method of enhancing social prestige and later as investments. The result was a large number of European, Slavic, and Asia fine and decorative art residing in private American collections.
The increasing wealth among upper middle and upper class Europeans, Russians and residents other Slavic nations, and Asians has resulted in a “return it back to its country of origin” movement. More and more antique ceramics are flowing over the eastern and western rim. Fueling this movement is a lack of interest in foreign fine and decorative arts, especially eighteenth and nineteenth century pieces, by young American collectors. The exceptions are the masterpiece/ultimate units which are seen primarily as investment commodities. Even here, American buyers often are unwilling to match the price nationalistic-drive foreign buyers will pay.
In ceramic collectibles, collectors are paying premium prices for pieces that exhibit strong aesthetic design. It makes little difference whether the piece is a one-of-a-kind handmade example or mass-produced. Eva Zeisel designed a number of mass produced forms for Hall. These bring premium prices. The secondary market value is style, in this instance Modernist, as opposed to manufacturer or pattern.
Late 1940s through the mid-1960s German retro pottery continues to show strong interest. Because of its aesthetics, the market is global rather than national. Thanks to internet storefront and auction sites, pieces are selling everywhere. Interest in German retro pottery began in the early1990s, driven at first by affordability and funkiness. Illustrated reference literature followed, providing collectors with information on manufacturers as well as a checklist of what was made. Although the reference books were printed in German, they quickly worked their way into the American marketplace.
The surprise is that collector interest in studio ceramics, especially from the post-1945 period, remains minimal. Post-1945 and contemporary studio glass is one of the hottest collecting categories in the field. Studio ceramics should mimic this but has not. The absence of museum exhibits and reference literature are two reasons. No significant rise in value because of secondary market speculation is another.
The golden age of the ceramic dinnerware service is in the distant past. No one is completing their parents’ Homer Laughlin or Wedgwood dinnerware services. Pfaltzgraff is the one bright spot. The secondary market remains strong, even for Pfatlzgraff’s most common patterns. Because of constant change of designs and colors with few shapes, patterns, or colors lasting little more than one to two years, there is little likelihood of a secondary market for Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barrel ceramics. Some consider this a blessing in disguise. The design value of their offerings is slim, serving only to compound the issue.
Form collecting enjoyed a brief renaissance at the turn of the 21st century. Collectors sought cups and saucer and pitcher. There was no creamer revival. The renaissance lasted only a year or two. Today, form sells little.
The primary selling point for most ceramic objects in 2012 is their ability to complement an existing designer trend, for example, a color, pattern, or shape—better a blue vase than a red one, better a red one than a green one, and so forth down the color value spectrum. As a whole, ceramics have been reduced to their decorative function, appearing in ones or twos but rarely as a collection.
Are stagnant secondary market prices going to remain the norm into the future?
The answer is yes if the focus is on the short term. As I indicated in a recent blog, it appears that the market slide is over and that prices have leveled out. This is good news.
The not so good news is that there are few to no indications that prices are rising. I measure the strength of any collecting category by how well its common and above average pieces are selling. I ignore the upper echelon and masterpieces/ultimate units. These latter two groups increase in value even in a down market.
The Great Recession demonstrated how closely prosperity in the antiques and collectibles trade is linked to global economics. Until America and the world feels a recover has occurred, income will be used for necessities or saved. The antiques and collectibles business depends on disposable income, something few individuals have in quantity in the 2010s.
Forget all the statistics that indicate that the economic is getting better. If you have a job, the fact that the unemployment rate fell below eight percent means nothing. If you do not have a job, it means everything.
Reality is how a person, a community, and the country feel. In 2012, a majority of Americans feel poor. People are saving instead of spending. Further generations are being told they most likely will not enjoy the same lifestyle as that of their parents and grandparents. The American dream has been shattered. The current hard times confirm this.
Those who have lived through mini-recession in the past are aware that recover eventually occurs. The economic pundits support this theory. What is causing consternation is the inability to predict when the recovery will begin. Some argue it already has. Others have taken a wait-and-see attitude. All the politicians care about is getting re-elected. If there is light at the end of the tunnel, it is very faint.
The Great Recession appears to have impacted the antiques and collectibles market in such a manner that its past operation methodology no longer is applicable. New approaches need to be developed to analyze and interpret the market going into the future. Is the era of a collecting category price run consisting of a trigger, run, peak, fall back, and a new price level may over? In the future, it may be necessary to do analysis on an object by object basis rather than by groups or categories.
Once again, I am looking asking readers to respond. Can you identify any collecting category where the common, above average, upper echelon, and masterpieces are increasing in value at a better than five percent a year rate?. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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