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Link-in thread 4 MAY 2011:

Joan Bilchik, President of www.panacheantiques.com, asks, “[I’ve been] In the antique business since 1986 and wondered if anyone has advice about surviving these challenging times. I have never worked so hard for such little reward. What am I not doing that I should be?  Paul Storr and Bateman silver pieces, Period American, English, French, antique furniture, paintings by A. Thieme, G.A.Williams, Von Siegen, Jack Shadbolt, etc . Meissen, 18th and 19th Century Sevres and Vincennes Porcelain. Also Chinese porcelain.”

Auctioneer Martin Willis, offers advice, “It looks like you are diversified in what you handle. I do a podcast [from] www.antiqueauctionforum.com and talk to a lot of dealers. I hope your not offended by my suggestion. If you have some high end items that were not purchased at auction, you may want to consign them to a reputable auction house.  Most dealers I know that are surviving well are doing this. It seems to balance out for them and keeps them going. Auctions for the most part are doing very well, especially for the best and rarest items.  I realize as a dealer you want to maintain high end items for your shop, so it is a difficult decision to part with items hard to replace.  A no brainer is consigning very fine Chinese porcelain to auction as the market is so hot right now and auction is great exposure to snag the right buyers. Good luck and hang in there!”

My response to Ms. Bilchik’s inquiry: Follow Martin Willis’ wise advice for as long as you can, and then find another line of work! That’s my sage advice. I was a high-end dealer for 25 years, enjoyed it early on most of the time, but never made any money at it, ever. You’re experiencing what has been in the making since the beginning: 1945. It’s the Boomer Effect. Just another phase of it mind you. As the boomers mature into geezer-hood they will all realize that the only things that really matter are the intangibles (e.g. integrity, honesty, fidelity, etc.). Eventually they will divest all of their material goods. We are just seeing the beginning of this massive transition now. Those dealers who wait for a miracle will find themselves hip deep in valuable stuff that has no demand. Get out now while you can still break even. Good luck.

Additional comment 5 MAY 2011 by Randall Lewis: “As a consumer of art and antiques and not a dealer, I do have a comment (for what it is worth). It seems to me that as Mark points out, it is inevitable that boomers (with little retirement savings) will start to release their collections into the marketplace and this will cause more turmoil for someone trying to make a living dealing antiques. From a consumer point of view, I find it difficult to determine if pieces being offered are priced fairly as prices from dealers greatly vary on similar items. Due to this, unless I really know a dealer and trust him or her, I tend to buy things at auctions (Heritage etc…) as auctions are a more close indication of the then current price/demand on any item being sold. I have seen pieces change hands at on line auction house for significantly less than similar pieces being offered by dealers (sometimes it is the other way around, but not normally). This leaves a consumer in a position to be wary of a dealer’s mark up and pricing. In the past, older people went to dealers. It seems my generation is more likely to buy at an auction (even on-line buying things sight unseen, as I do) which should result in traditional dealers becoming suppliers to the larger on-line auction houses. Sad to say, but I think this is the reality of dealers going forward. The problem with the internet is that historical prices for most items are available instantly and it is nearly impossible then to sell items at fair prices if you have large overhead or are trying to purely make a living at this one endeavor. Another comment, is on Edward’s comment that a lot of the market is dealers buying from dealers with few pieces ending up in someones’ living room. I think this is true and a caution to dealers in general. Exchanging items between other dealers and higher and higher prices only results in limiting your market and the real market is normal people like myself who simply desire something beautiful of good quality for personal enjoyment. People like myself (most people) are priced out of this artificial market that is being created by dealers among dealers…this could eventually result in unique price bubbles being created which will eventually pop (everyone knows this effect due to real estate)!”

My Comment: Mr. Lewis has a clear understanding of the marketplace and I couldn’t agree with him more. Indeed, he may be a market savant. Dealers, print out Mr. Lewis’ prescription and take two aspirins in the morning. Collectors, grab yourself by the short hairs and pull yourself out of the ridicules neurosis of collecting. Travel, dance, fine dine, sky dive, anything but shopping for things that collect dust. Get a life. Brilliant Mr. Lewis!