ABC (Antiques - Books - Collectibles)

Times Are a-Changing: Young Disregard ‘Old Treasures’

By RAY deTHY | Apr 16, 2012

Three years ago, I wrote four columns that were intended to bring my readers up-to-date regarding the status of various antiques and collectibles that had entered a stage of change with regard to their popularity. The contents centered around the decreasing interest of collectors buying antique china, crystal and silver items and a corresponding increasing interest in pre-World War II toys, dolls and estate jewelry. At the time (only three years ago), we paid high prices for these latter pieces and realized relatively quick turnover because of high levels of customer interest to buy them for their collections and as investment potentials.

In the intervening years, much has occurred. Many Baby Boomers were preparing for retirement. Life in general and entertainment and other social activities had settled into a much more casual mode. Less “dressing up” and more “dressing down” had become a way of life for most of us.

Added to these social and cultural elements that were changing (or had changed) has been the powerful, negative impact of the economic recession on our spending habits. Money is tight for a large portion of our middle class. Lost jobs and increasing prices for staples has caused many former buyers of commodities such as we and others have provided has erased much of the discretionary money for many of our clients.

The result is that most of us in the ABC businesses have seen a marked decline in selling the “higher- end” material that we sold in the near past. We have far fewer buyers and more sellers who are winnowing out their unused items. Most of this “sell-off” is partially related to the seller finding additional funds, but many have told me that it’s not totally about the money. Much of it relates to the fact that many of their children (up to age 50) have no interest in collecting (or owning) what their parents amassed over the years.

This odd confluence of older peoples’ more formal lifestyles and younger ones’ more casual world has produced a significant divide as a result of the recession. (Please note: In my past professional life, these circumstances would have been the subject of a book relating to the economy. You are fortunate that time and circumstance limits my discussion to only a few sentences).

The Realities of Now

For antique and rare book dealers, we can continue to have fine jewelry, early toys, rare books and other items that represented a more formal and/or an investment-oriented clientele, but it is a much smaller portion of our business. “People who have money always have money” but this clientele has become a much lower percentage of the total population.

Younger generations still want decorative items in their homes and personal lifestyles but there is not nearly as much concern that their purchases should also be viewed as investments for the future.

Dealers have to be more discriminating in their inventory purchases. Even though we all may have different customers that we wish to service, we may have to think carefully whether a “good” buy is going to turn into a sell for our particular clientele. This can be especially difficult for general merchandise dealers who have become accustomed to buying anything at a reasonable “profit-making” price, but if our client base isn’t buying this kind of item, it is not a good buy.

As a personal example, we have actually had sellers tell us that they were offended that items they offered to sell were described by me as “of no value to us.” I follow up with “that doesn’t mean that it won’t have value for someone.” In essence, we’re trying very hard to limit our purchases to material we can sell, and are trying to avoid the inexpensive (or free, in some cases) item(s) that few buyers want.

Now Sought and Bought

A long preface is complete and now here is my perception of the results of the changes that have occurred:

Jewelry – pieces that are well made and beautifully designed, that are not made of precious materials and/or gems, are very popular. I have had several customers tell me “It’s a case of function over form.” If it looks great, they like it. It’s not a “look at the 14k mark on the brooch” kind of “gotcha.”

Dolls – Far fewer customers are looking at or buying dolls and accessories that are 80 years old or more. We have far more calls and sales for 1930s to 1970s examples that are, again, beautifully designed and clothed but made of celluloid, plastic or hard vinyl. Bisque and composition dolls are NOT hot.

Other playthings, such as trains and tin toys that were made before WWII, are still avidly sought by some collectors. But post-war trains and other 1950-1970 tin and plastic toys including made in Japan, battery-operated and friction-drive items have a much higher proportion of requests than even five years ago.

Glass and China – These items are definitely continuing to slide down the interest level. Today’s social culture places little value on hand washing china and crystal, or not being able to put them in microwave ovens. This change in collectability, except for a small number of purists, has likely changed the value of most of these items forever. Decorative pieces other than basic dinnerware china and crystal items, however, are still moderately hot.

Sterling silver – and other silver items are one of the categories that are in the midst of a very conflicted interest mode. On the downside, flatware and other silver tableware and most decorative pieces have almost no secondary market value. Same problem as with china and crystal: they can’t be put in the dishwasher or microwave and must be hand polished. However, these pieces are very hot as meltable silver. The rise of silver (and gold) bullion prices has made most silver and gold items worth more as metals than they ever were as functional items. In fact, we’ve been melting common gold and silver items in great volume because their metal values make them, generally, too pricey for most people to buy as jewelry, etc. High quality jewelry that is beautifully crafted is a good sell, while plain bracelets, necklaces and rings without precious gems is nearly impossible to offer to customers at a price that allows for any profit for the dealer(s).

In summary, there seems to be a significant resetting of the criteria that buyers and sellers utilize to establish value and salability. It is cultural, generational and money-driven. And it is unlikely to change significantly, even when the economy becomes more robust.

Ray deThy is the owner of Verde Antiques and Rare Books and Verde Appraisal Service, both in Manahawkin. He has been an appraiser since 1985



Today’s Value and Tip is a bit different from previous columns. There are no photographs and no dollar values. Instead, I am writing about several personal circumstances that have been valuable for my partners, and me and I will end the section with an unusual tip.

I intimated in a recent column that one of the items photographed had been stolen from my store. Much has happened since then, which indicates that it was far from a single instance. A number of people have helped in moving toward a resolution for which all of us at Verde are appreciative. It does mean that we still intend to provide pleasant and easy access to our entire inventory, though we have added a 24-hour security system that is not intrusive. We thank all who have helped in this matter.

Our TIP is that in the next several weeks we will begin to offer for sale portions of a fine vintage decoy and shore bird collection by a collector who gathered 400 interesting examples of beach–related collectibles. Stay alert for classified ads in both the Leader and the Sandpaper for the specifics of the sale.

If you have an item you would like to have considered for a future “Values & Tips” segment, please e-mail particulars and a photo(s) to or mail to Verde Antiques and Rare Books, 73 East Bay Ave., Manahawkin, NJ 08050. Please include a telephone contact. Material submitted will not be returned whether it is published or not.

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