In many towns, the traditional high street antique shops are disappearing. Rents grow ever higher, and some styles of antiques have fallen out of fashion. As a result, more and more shops are abandoning their brick and mortar locations, and collectors are lamenting a dearth of local antiques shops. In the age of the Internet and myriad social media selling platforms (such as eBay and Etsy), many dealers have taken solely to the online world.
Although the outlook appears more difficult, there are antiques dealers seeing success as a result of a renewed verve for writing. It certainly appears that writing about your antiques niche with passion and panache is a great way to get more people interested in your pieces. While writing a book about your cherished collection may seem a bit much, blogging and social media are changing the landscape. We can now publish our expertise with ease, allowing us to attract buyers and collectors from spheres we had barely considered before.
In this post, I take a look at the prevailing fashions in home decoration and explain how I believe we, as antiques experts, can and should influence these with writing, and why an exciting emerging demographic means NOW is the time to do it.
Fast fashion doesn’t just apply to clothing
For those of us in the antiques trade, the idea of a home without a collection of carefully curated pieces is unthinkable. After all, the beauty, history, and interest of certain antiques can be intoxicating for those with the collecting bug. We all have our own favourite eras and styles, and everyone’s individual design ethos has long meant that antiques of all styles have had a market. Things are changing.
While we may not understand a disinterest in antiques, for many people the idea of spending good money on what they see as ‘old junk’ is unthinkable. Today’s home furnishings and decorations are cheaper than ever, as multinational giants such as Ikea take over. The average person now wants to decorate their home with the furniture equivalent of ‘fast fashion;’ goods of dubious quality made quickly and cheaply with unethical labour.
In today’s instant gratification society, many people don’t want to lay out the investment required for a well-made piece of furniture or art that will last a lifetime (or many lifetimes!) They just don’t see a value in spending more for high-quality goods when their tastes and fashion might change in a few years – they want the stylish (albeit cheaply made) instant gratification.
As antiques dealers, what we have to offer transcends fast fashion and can bring interest, sophistication and beauty to their lives. All we need to do is make more people aware of this, and that is where writing comes in.
Successful Writing – An Art Deco case study
We have noticed that sometimes, all it seems to take is a new book (or two) about a specific era or design movement to stoke the trend and encourage new interest. Last year, we witnessed a resurgence in the interest in Art Deco statues and decorative items which correlated directly to two new Albert Shayo books on the topic, published in May in 2016.
Shayo’s lovingly written tomes, one about Art Deco statuettes and one about Romanian sculptor Demétre Chiparus, are authoritative texts that received a lot of press. As a result, we began to field more and more requests for Art Deco figurines from our clients. Whether they had read Shayo or were just influenced by the increase in Art Deco in the cultural zeitgeist, the books are clearly a factor driving trends.
Making antiques popular
This correlation between books and popular antiques is not just limited to Art Deco; many other objects and design trends have had their popularity boosted as well. A large number of new collectors began to acquire Vienna Bronzes in 2008 as a result of Joseph Zobel’s book Antique Vienna Bronzes. This trend has continued over the past decade, with many clients referring directly to Zobel’s book when making their requests.
Similarly, a Belgian glass dealer named Tiny Esveld published four books that have become invaluable reference works for collectors and prompted many novices to begin their own collections.
In 2016, G.G. Weiner published a Lalique car mascot reference book, and this has helped generate new discerning clients interested in these unusual objects.
All of these authors have created a surge in popularity for their own areas of speciality. Could you do the same for yours? It must be worth a try.
Creating interest in antiques by blogging
How can you get your message about antiques out into the world? Simple: write about them. While we might not all be able to write and publish a successful book, we can make smaller contributions to our industry by harnessing the power of websites and social media.
Writing a blog is a great way to draw those searching online for your pieces towards your business. Blogging also enables you to reach an audience that may not have given much consideration to antiques before. By telling people about our collections and demonstrating what makes them so interesting we can ensure more people see them as special and unique and worthy of investment.
By sharing our own perceptions of the items in our collections, we can highlight their relevance in history and encourage others to connect to them in a similarly meaningful way.
This method works particularly well when combined with an element of ‘news jacking.’ Demonstrate how your pieces (or their era) are relevant to a news story that’s getting lots of attention and you can divert some of that attention your way, to your pieces, giving you the chance to pique people’s interest and tempt them to buy into your passion.
Seen something exciting on Antiques Roadshow and have a tale to tell about those times? Write it. Is a love story hitting the headlines with a likeness to a tale behind one of your pieces? Highlight it. Is your table made from trees now extinct in your country? Detail this. Can you track the lineage of your piece through some interesting pairs of hands? Tell people about them.
Share your stories on social media, accompanied with relevant hashtags, and you can reach the mainstream market.
To spread your message even further, consider contacting local newspapers or sector publications that have larger audiences. Publishing a guide or a ‘spotlight’ piece on an object or historical era can generate a lot of interest.
The risk of not sharing our expertise
The growth of social media and the online world has made it all too easy for those with little knowledge of the antiques market to widely publicise their views. These ‘mistruths’, whether they are incorrect facts about individual pieces or the state of the market, can spread quickly and be highly damaging to reputable dealers.
Creating a separate, honest and informed narrative is important if we want to combat these ‘click bait’ stories and encourage confidence in the antiques sector. Demonstrating that there is a way people can buy antiques with confidence is key if we want a new, younger demographic to buy into antiques. As is working to inspire people and demonstrate ways to incorporate antiques into modern, eclectic homes, as the Young Guns did in Bath.
Making Grandma and Grandpa ‘cool’ again? A resurgence in vintage and the ‘hipster’ ethos
Right now there is an emerging demographic in the antiques industry that is particularly perceptive of the online world – the ‘hipsters.’ From old-timey language to cooking to clothing, a generation of well-heeled youngsters is keen to embrace all things vintage. As esteemed antiques dealer Richard Gardner has pointed out, these ‘decorative and vintage market’ clients have bucked the fast fashion trend and are actively seeking out antiques.
Far from fearing the styles of their grandparents, the ‘hipster’ set is all about recreating mid-century modern lounges, nineteenth-century refectories, and shabby chic interiors. This set are not solely limited to decorating their houses, either – they are opening a host of cocktail bars, barber shops, pubs and diners with the same vintage look and feel.
Targeting this clientele just makes good business sense, and they can be found online, on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, where they are happy to check out blogs about interesting looking pieces. Reaching out to them here (or hiring a ‘digital native’ to help you do so) will bring you a new audience for your beloved collections.