John Chaski Antiques

American Material Culture

Back to the Future: Price Diversity

John Chaski

Back to the serious stuff, the most important antiques-related thing a 30 year old dealer can think about, the future of the marketplace.  For a variety of reasons, I think shows have a vital role to play.  Maybe that will be another post.  Humor me for the purposes of this lecture. 

Diversity is a good thing.  Some of the shows that might once have been considered the most traditional and stodgy are now allowing contemporary material in small doses, opening up date lines, hosting special events for young collectors, etc.  That's all great, seriously, but it ignores a vital point of concern for a lot of young collectors - price.  It's important to retain new collectors but equally or, perhaps at this moment in time, more important to recruit new ones.  To invite potential new collectors to a cocktail party where the price points say "luxury" and "exclusive" rather than "useful" and "inexpensive" may not be constructive if those same people can't see spending $10,000 on an old walking stick. 

I do shows, so I understand the excuses and I've had just enough to drink to write a one paragraph tirade about each one.  We all have egos and are more important than that $195 blanket chest or $35 silhouette.  There are different shows where people can buy that stuff.  A $250 sampler doesn't pay its own rent even if it sells. 

"I am too important to have a $195 blanket chest or $35 silhouette in my booth."  You probably are.  You know what I am?  Too young to be doing a couple of the shows I do.  The ones where many of the more experienced dealers thrive because they've had the opportunity to build relationships with existing collectors.  Existing collectors.  In other words, people who decided which dealers they would trust to build their collections through before I did my first show.  Most of those collectors scurry by my booth as if I'm wearing one of those bird flu masks.  But if you're too important to sell those things, odds are you actually kind of need at least some people my age to do that show, to fill it and sustain it.  There are easier ways for me, but I enjoy the challenge and I'm a team player.  You can be a team player too, by helping me out.  Bring some interesting, inexpensive things.  Doing so will help foster a new generation of collectors who I can sell to when I'm 96 and have bionic joints. 

"If they want something for $50 why don't they go to that other show or a co-op."  Great idea, that will help the show you're doing right now survive.  Next.

"This show costs me $25 per square foot all-in, how can I bring a blanket chest for $195?"  I don't know, I manage to do it and I mostly make money.  You can't apply that math to your whole booth and hope to make it out alive, but that's not what I'm asking.  Here's a little example:

New Hampshire Antiques Show, 2014.

New Hampshire Antiques Show, 2014.

Here's a lousy photo of three-quarters of one of the most profitable booths I ever set up.  I sold a pair of Micah Williams portraits, a family of Da Lee miniatures, a bunch of gameboards, a slew of pots, and almost all those silhouettes on the right.  A few of those silhouettes were one fifty, two fifty, but a bunch of them were thirty bucks, fifty bucks.  I bet I sold silhouettes to ten different people.  That's ten new customers for the mailing list.  Ten people leaving that madhouse of a show thinking "even with a crowd that big there are bargains to be had here", "I can afford to buy at this show", "I can't believe you can buy a real antique with some substance to it for less than the filet at the hotel restaurant."

Those are happy thoughts, the ones we as collectors like to think and the ones we as dealers want collectors to have.  Let's all be happy, let's all be activists for a healthier little antiques world.  Bring something affordable and nice, a real bargain, to your next show.