Antiques and heirlooms in a disposable age
Antiques are artifacts left behind by those before us, most notably our ancestors who we inherit from. These artifacts are heirlooms to us and generations before us. It could be great grandma’s dining room table or revolver from the civil war era passed down in the family. But are people alive today leaving things behind? Attitudes to antiques have changed. So, what does that mean for our descendants?
The way we value antiques differs over time, depending on the fashions and cultural norms of the moment. So how are attitudes evolving today? Might the disposable and digital age we live in produce fewer heirlooms for future generations?
Traditionally, objects at least 100 years old were considered antique. This was the minimum threshold put in place by the most prestigious antique fairs and showrooms. As demand for antiques has been declining, values have changed. Some higher-end antique fairs and shows have relaxed their rules to include objects manufactured up to 1969. As contemporary objects become more sought after, buyer tastes have changed, and the success of antique dealing is now measured by demand of something, not necessarily age.
The trend of minimalism in recent years has also contributed to the decline of antique demand. While there is still a niche for high-end designers selling objects that endure, there are many more people who favor replaceable homeware over heirlooms. And that leads us to question whether our descendants will be left with nothing from us.
For many people, some of their most expensive possessions, apart from cars or property, are not antiques. They are often phones or laptops, which have a limited shelf life. People can’t repair their technology so they throw it away and buy new. The repairability of technology, however, is part of the resurgence of interest in analog. Film cameras, record players, and retro watches have all seen an increase in second-hand sales. Antique clocks and vintage musical instruments, considered hi-tech in their day, are examples of fixable analog devices.
It’s doubtful that our descendants will be prizing our iPhones and computers without the ability to replace parts. And collectors’ items can and do lose their value as fashions change over generations. Marilyn Monroe memorabilia, for example, is dropping in value as younger people ignore her celebrity.
For younger generations, the environmental impact of constantly replacing goods could lead to a change in attitude towards disposable possessions. This is cause to be optimistic about the future of antiques. It can seem illogical to buy mass-produced modern furniture when a 200-year-old hand-crafted antique piece is comparable in price. Antiques can be as innovative and space-efficient as anything you can buy from a modern store.
It is difficult to know which antiques will likely retain value because it is very difficult to predict in a volatile market. However, the best advice is to buy a piece that gives you pleasure every time you look at it.