It occurred to me the other evening after we had been to the third closing down reception in as many weeks for an antiques gallery, that the gallery’s stock which had formerly been composed almost entirely of good quality period material was now a mishmash of period, period reproduction, and midcentury modern pieces. Although slow in the uptake, it finally dawned on me that I’d seen the same sad mix amongst all the dealers to whom we were bidding adieu.
Since these dealers didn’t alter their range of material all at once, one presumes a commercial imperative as they sought to offer a different and possibly broader range in response to customer demand, and a change in customers. I wonder- were these changes real or perceived? For whatever reason, there has existed a fad prominently reflected in the shelter media for so-called mid-century modern material that began, appropriately enough, with a rediscovery of the best of 20th century design. No question, a renewed appreciation of Ruhlmann, Poillerat, Printz, Samuel Marx and Leleu was due, but that material, with its value a function of its fine quality and very limited production, then gave way to pieces that, no other way to describe them, were just kitsch. With the mania for 20th century material, period dealers, while wanting to appear au courant but really trying to chase the market, began to introduce mid century pieces- often not very successfully, both in terms of quality and attempting to merge it with existing stocks of period material. As well, the fad element coupled with internet marketing spawned a price frenzy, with both dealers and collectors fighting to acquire what was in limited supply. Astonishingly, many of the highest prices paid for modern pieces were paid by dealers. In a new and rapidly escalating price environment, who can say what a reasonable price is to pay? It seems that a number of dealers, apparently, assumed that the demand and consequent appreciation would continue unabated and a profitable sale would follow, regardless of acquisition cost, in the fullness of time. It seems that, for a number of dealers, time ran out.
Nothing, of course, stays the same, and while a royal warrant above a trapped-in-time, 19th century a corset shop in Mayfair might assure continued custom from not only the queen but also the curious, we do have to change, but not so much that our client base does not recognize us. In our galleries, acquisition of material happens slowly and selectively. Consequently, we develop a certain look that clients, both interior designers and collectors find appealing. Mind you, le goût Chappell et McCullar is appealing to very, very few of our visitors, but those who find it so become our clients. It has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done to adopt the equanimity to accept that not everyone can see what we see in the material we offer. But, gratifyingly, a number do- or at least enough that allow us thereby to continue on in business. Sadly, it appears that, for a number of soon to be ex-collegues, the vortex of change became for them a maelstrom, with their desire and attempts to change resulting in their demise.