COLUMNSGenericHome Guru

What Has Happened to the Public’s Interest in Antiques?

We are part of The Trust Project
Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

A half-century ago, when I was furnishing my first apartment in New York City, it was in an old apartment house and I considered it appropriate to seek out the wares of antiques shops for décor and interesting accessories.

While all the functional pieces like the living room sofa and my bed were brand new, I looked for antique pieces for tables, chairs, wall décor and accent pieces. For a time after I married, my wife and I lived in antique houses, one in Brooklyn Heights, built in 1826, and the second in Yorktown Heights, built in 1734.

While my wife had formerly been contemporary in her furnishing outlook, I converted her by planning half our honeymoon in Colonial Williamsburg where I had gone to school at the College of William & Mary and where I first developed my interest in antiques. By the time we set up our first apartment, our entire home environment was a throwback to the 18th and 19th centuries.

Besides buying for practical use, my wife and I started collecting for the mere pleasure of finding and possessing items of interest, everything from antique pill and snuff boxes to children’s playing marbles. In both Brooklyn and Westchester, antiques were easy to come by with a good number of shops dotting the city and country landscapes.

Even my wife and I got into the act when we bought our Brooklyn Heights house and it happened to have an antiques shop on the first floor. Because we both had regular jobs during the week, our antiques shop in Brooklyn was open only on Saturdays and Sundays. Appropriately, it was called The Saturday Shop.

When I got the job as director of public relations at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, we moved to Yorktown Heights, and there we opened the country version of our antiques business in our home, which happened to be an antique itself. We didn’t experience the success we had in the city and closed it after a year. However, we were left with all the inventory and, today, some of the collectibles that were once for sale are now the accent pieces in our very modern home.

While antiques shops flourished a half-century ago, they are hard to come by today. My favorite haunt locally for years had been The Yellow Shed, but today it sells only estate jewelry. Surely eBay has something to do with it.

When I was downsizing four years ago from a 4,000-square-foot antique home to a brand new 1,800-square-foot condo, my challenge was to dispose of many of my antique furnishings that had filled my house. When I called not one, but two antiques businesses, hoping one of them would offer me a good price for my treasures, I was very disappointed to find that neither of them had any interest in acquiring them. They didn’t even offer to take my antiques on consignment. “Antiques are dead,” one of the dealers told me.

What is the reason for this lack of interest today? There are probably several reasons. First, I believe that as a nation, our interest in our past waxes and wanes. It was at an all-time high in the early 1940s when national pride soared during World War II. But it waned in the 1960s around the time of the World’s Fair in New York, when the home of the future was all the rage.

However, when our nation’s bicentennial arrived in 1976, our past became relevant again, and we went through two decades of renewed interest.

But since the turn of the 21st century, antiques have lost their appeal for most of us. Further, living space is more costly than it’s ever been and there is less room for anything in the modern home that isn’t functional.

There is one conundrum to consider about all of this: Why is “Antiques Roadshow” so popular on television? My theory is that the general public is still interested in knowing about the oddities featured on that show – but that doesn’t mean people want to spend any money purchasing them. Or perhaps this is just a low ebb in the cycle of interest.

I really shouldn’t worry about whether other folks are as into antiques as I am. I should just enjoy looking at some lovely old things that grace my home as accents today, or relish the tactile experience of rolling some end-of-day glass playing marbles in my hand, imagining the children’s joy of playing with them 150 years ago.

Especially now that I’m older, I have as much appreciation as ever for older things.

Bill Primavera enjoys a dual career as a publicist and a realtor with William Raveis Real Estate in Yorktown. As a realtor, he engages in residential and commercial real estate. To employ the services of The Home Guru to market and promote your home for sale, call Bill directly at 914-522-2076.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.