Your Antiquing Profile


A while back we came across a web store for children’s toys and gear (“The Land of Nod”) which at one time assisted people shopping for just the right gift for a little one by organizing merchandise according to the child’s personality – the Crafty Kid, the Smarty Pants, the Entertainer, and so on. This provoked our own musings about how a website selling antiques might organize itself in a similar way.

After conversations with fellow antiques dealers who have also been in the business of selling quality Americana for upwards of twenty years, we’ve converged on a typology of people who buy the types of antiques we all sell.  Here are the results of our ruminations-over-drinks scholarship, winnowed down to just three catch-all categories:

Passionate Collectors.  People who for some reason have alighted on a particular category of historical objects – from scrimshaw to Pilgrim furniture – of which they just can’t get enough.  Often antiques collectors start out acquiring every example of a type that they can get their hands on, and then become more discriminating about quality and rarity as they learn more or become financially able to indulge in the higher end of their category.  Although a stereotypical collector is found in flea market America scouring the fields for “collectibles” such as Pez containers or baseball cards, the trait can also run deeply in people who love antiques that are not typically classified as collectibles. It is always fun to meet someone who has their own personal collection that not many have been attracted to – vintage photos of dead game anyone?  Some love the thrill of an arduous hunt for a rare piece, while others are happy to wait for a phone call from someone who has their number, so to speak. Collectors can be motivated by investment potential, aesthetic attraction, or the satisfaction of categorical completeness.  Although their accumulations are constrained by a category, they are not always constrained by space – we know collectors who happily rent storage units to contain their overflow.

Dedicated Designers.  These folks usually start with a vision for how a room or a home will look, feel, and function, and then seek the right pieces to fulfill the vision.  They buy an antique based on how they will live with it, knowing exactly where and how it will fit into their home.  Their attraction to antiques can stem from a range of motivations – from a desire to personalize a space with one-of-a-kind objects, to the urge to accurately recreate the look of a time period or vernacular style.  Some prioritize function, while others prioritize visual presence over an object’s practicality. They work within a theme, either one based in history or one of their own creation, that antiques help to establish or embellish.

Eclectic Aesthetes.  This category for aesthetes, or “those who cultivate a high sensitivity to beauty,” describes people who buy with their eye, and who are often attracted to more quirky objects.  They don’t have a theme in mind or a spot to fill, but buy an antique because it speaks to them on some level, whether as a trifling fancy or as a deep aesthetic attraction. An example comes to mind of a person who bought a chair made entirely of moose antlers which we delivered up several flights of narrow stairs to a New York City loft filled with other strange, beautiful, and salvaged objects. Although the chair was more comfortable than it looked, we suspected that didn’t matter to the buyer who was a person for whom just being in the presence of that object made him happy.

As you read these profiles, perhaps you are seeing a bit of yourself in each – for instance, you love the connoisseurship of collecting, yet restrict your acquisitions to objects that fit your decorating scheme and space limitations, but are sometimes swayed to purchase something quite outside of your own guidelines simply because you fall in love with it.  And of course each category of buyer can be subcategorized depending on personal style – for instance, a collector who is a spontaneous buyer vs. one who is slow and cautious.  In the end, it is not so easy to typecast our complexity. (Indeed, if you ever encountered personality assessment tools in a psychology class, you’ve seen how a few basic attributes such as “introvert” and “extrovert” combine in innumerable ways to create multifaceted personality profiles, and yet you still won’t find yourself perfectly described.)  We’re each unique, which is good for antiques dealers in the long run – every customer has a personal blend of motivations and aesthetics that can individually shift to the foreground or background of their buying decisions during different times of life or stages of home ownership. This keeps our work invigorating.

So will we come up with a new way to organize the merchandise on our website according to types of antiques buyers?  It is not likely, because in spite of motivations that distinguish one antiques buyer from another, there are many commonalities that unite them:  a desire to seek and live with reflections of history, a preference for patina over flawless new coatings, a willingness to forgo shopping expediency to search and wait for rewards, and an appreciation for value and quality.  You are our people, and there is no need to subcategorize that good fortune.

(© Copyright 2012 Text is not to be copied without permission. Silhouette photos from Library of Congress public archives.)


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