Whenever antiques dealers find themselves together with idle time to chat, it does not take long before someone bemoans the lack of young people interested in buying antiques. (Actually there is a huge amount of interest in antiques among the young adult demographic, but it manifests in ways that traditional antiques dealers do not necessarily understand – but that’s a topic for a different cultural analysis.)
Most present-day antiques dealers are upwards of middle age, and have grown into their careers with a strong clientele of baby boomers who are now retiring and downsizing, rather than accumulating antiques. So there have been efforts to recruit “young collectors” with events such as evening parties at antiques shows for young adults, and mentorship programs that encourage older collectors to take young collectors under their wing. The focus of these efforts is on people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are beginning to furnish and accessorize their own apartments or houses.
But being out and about in the antiquing world during recent weeks (while exhibiting at a show in New York and shopping at the Brimfield Antiques Markets), I witnessed a few scenes that put a new spin on my thoughts about young collectors.
On Sunday afternoon of a garden antiques show at The New York Botanical Garden I watched a 10-year old boy leading his mother around to booths. She was holding his jacket and intentionally standing back as he entered booths and engaged with dealers.
He was keen on figural cement garden ornaments, and finally honed in on one booth that had a huge variety of animals – otters, owls, cats, bunnies, and the like. I watched as the dealer offered to lift one of the figures that the boy was particularly attracted to off the floor onto a plinth to place it beside another one that he was considering. His mother stepped into the booth at that point, not to control the situation, but to ask questions “What do you like about that one?” “Is that the size you want?” “Which one makes you smile more?” She then stepped back to let the boy state his final choice to the dealer – a recumbent stone puppy with floppy ears – and finally engaged with the dealer to pay for the purchase.
They proceeded to the booth across from us, where the boy went directly to a mushroom garden stool that was the perfect height and size for him to sit on – this was obviously his second visit to the booth, as he knew exactly what he wanted. He talked briefly with his mother, and again she physically stood back while he engaged with the dealer. After the transaction was complete (and Jeff was helping the dealer lift and carry the heavy toadstool to the family’s car), the boy proudly told me about the puppy he had just purchased from “that dealer over there.” He seemed genuinely as excited about his one-to-one interactions with dealers as he did about the objects he purchased.