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Investing In Antiques

Peggy Healy Parker discusses the trend of including antiques in your investment portfolio: getting started, best bets, and advice from the experts.


Is There a Chippendale in Your Future?
Antiques are joining the family of investment vehicles.


The stock market lacks luster. Real estate is leveling off. Interest rates remain low. Maybe it’s time to consider adding some tangible assets to your portfolio. What about a Boston highboy? A Louis Quinze credenza? A menu from the Titanic? Some in the money-managing business are suggesting that fine antiques are a solid investment bet.

But there are caveats. Dodee Crockett, first vice president of investments with Merrill Lynch/Dallas, says that the brokerage firm considers antiques to be “alternative investments” along with fine art, vintage automobiles, and other collectibles. “Our rule of thumb,” she said, “is that antiques should not exceed 10 percent of your total portfolio.” That’s because antiques are not very liquid, and prices fluctuate with time and fashion. Crockett believes any purchase must pass this litmus test: Would the piece mean something to you if it wasn’t worth any money?

That said, the returns on some antiques have been staggering. Case in point: Queen Anne secretaries in J. Manheim’s showroom in 1974 were selling for $8,000 to $15,000. Those same secretaries today would fetch between $75,000 and $250,000 each. Nationally, the most famous find – the Seymour demilune card table bought at a New Jersey garage sale for $25 that sold at Sotheby’s for $541,000 – has further stoked the antiques-as-investments fire.

Collectors should avoid things that are faddish or fun-for-a-day, says Crockett. But catching the antiques fashion wave can be lucrative. A fine piece of American furniture that sold for $12,000 in 1990 might well command $75,000 to $100,000 now. Manheim concurs that fashions are cyclical. “In the mid-70s, you couldn’t give away an Empire sofa. Then the King Tut exhibit came through, and you couldn’t keep one around.”

While there are no guarantees, better pieces will appreciate over time. Twenty years ago, according to Philip Maia, one of Dallas’ most impassioned dealers, a Louis XV Provincial walnut armoire was worth from $12,000 to $15,000. Today it’s worth $36,000 to $40,000. Why? Scarcity, beauty, patina, perfect dovetailing, un-split wood, and the sound of the locking mechanism that confirms the maker’s prowess.

Betty Gertz, the soigné proprietor of East & Orient, offers a rule of thumb for appreciation provided by another legendary dealer and designer, her friend Axel Vervoordt: “About 15 percent a year for a first-quality antique.” Appraiser and auctioneer Jerry Holley of Dallas Auction Gallery says, “You shouldn’t go into collecting with the idea that it will be some big money-maker. But, if you buy quality and rarity, over time the return is comparable to and sometimes better than stocks or bonds. This has been true for 150 years.” Remember, though, there are carrying costs associated with owning antiques including insurance, appraisals, and maintenance.

What’s hot now? Antique English furniture is enjoying a revival that Kevin Peavy of Joseph Minton Antiques believes was sparked by the Chippendale chair featured on the cover of Art & Antiques magazine two years ago. Eighteenth-century English furniture, with its strong, bold lines, large boards, and ball-and-claw feet, is still deemed by many to be the height of grand elegance. It’s never really gone out of vogue. English Regency, ebonized mahogany, or rosewood tables and sideboards are trending nicely. And don’t overlook mid-century modern, American-made furniture, or anything Tiffany.

Best Investment Bets Now

  • Tiffany Silver
  • Italian, especially Venetian or Murano, chandeliers
  • Antique American Furniture
  • American or French Art Glass
  • English Period Furniture
  • Mid-century Modern
  • Biedermeier Furniture



Getting Going
Before You Buy Your First Antique

Define your area of interest – what fascinates you, what you love. Make sure you can afford quality items in this area. Become a student of your field.

Find a reputable dealer who specializes in the niche you’ve carved for yourself.

Buy top-quality items: They’ll grow in value in spite of fashion and market fluctuations.

Get an appraiser to vouch for the item’s quality and authenticity in writing. (The International Society of Appraisers’ largest chapter is the one in North Texas.)

Keep your antiques in good condition. Use expert restorers for restoration or repair.

Inventory your antiques, room by room, and schedule them on your insurance policy.

Limit your investment to 10 percent of your total portfolio.

Hold on long enough to make your profit (remember, you’re likely buying at retail and
selling at wholesale).

Buying Tips:
Buy from tried-and-true dealers, those who’ll stake their reputation on what they’re selling or who will buy back what they’ve sold for full credit.

Comb antiques fairs, flea markets, and estate sales. Where overhead isn’t fixed, bargains can be had.

Ask the dealer to put provenance in writing. Pedigree holds its value.Check condition: Have repairs been made reverently? Has the piece been altered?

Develop visual literacy: travel, visit museums, browse shops.

If you’re not knowledgeable, let someone who is buy for you.

Attend auctions.



Calendar of Antiques Shows, Fairs, & Auctions

Buchanan Markets
Antiques & Collectibles
Dallas Fair Park. Automobile Building. 1010 First Ave. (Off I-30 and Second Ave.).
Antiques and collectibles from across the U.S. and Europe are showcased in this nine-year-old market encompassing 85,000 square feet of exhibit space. The show is held monthly in the Automobile Building at Fair Park, except during September and October, when it moves to Market Hall to make way for the State Fair. Nov 6-7 (garage sale); Nov 27-28; Dec 18-19.

Dallas Auction Gallery
1518 Slocum St. 214-653-3900.
This full-service antiques and fine-art auction house hit the ground running when it opened in January 2002.  The hammer goes down on a regular schedule at its venue in the heart of the Design District, but phone for specific dates for upcoming events and offerings. What to expect: a diverse assortment of antique furniture including period pieces and decorative accessories, oil paintings, art glass and pottery, antique oriental rugs, and silver and jewelry from local and regional estates. Nov 17. 6 p.m. Fine art and estate jewelry.

Dallas Book & Paper Show
Freeway Hall at Market Hall. Market Center Blvd. (Exit off I-35). 409-935-3016.
Ever since a Dallas book dealer paid $3 for a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at a local estate sale and sold it on eBay for $3,000 (it was a pristine first edition), the chase has been on. You may not hit the jackpot at this fair for bibliophiles and lovers of old maps, but then again, you might. On display is a fabulous assortment of antiquarian, rare, and out-of-print books; first editions; fine bindings; and those self-published volumes known as vanity press books. The “paper” in the show title refers to etchings and antique maps, historic documents, photographs, paper dolls, vintage postcards, celebrity autographs, advertising ephemera, and other works on paper. Fri, Dec 3. 5-8 p.m.; Sat, Dec 4. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission for both days: $5.

Canton: First Monday Trade Days
Canton (60 miles east of Dallas on I-20). 903-567-6556.
As the story goes, back in the 1800s a circuit court judge would travel from town to town on specified days of the week, usually Mondays, to hear cases. Nearby farmers and ranchers, seizing on the chance to trade, would arrive the preceding weekend. On Monday, they would assemble with the townsfolk to listen to the legal proceedings. The weekend custom continues, especially in Canton, where the monthly gathering has metamorphosed into one of the largest flea markets in the world. Craftsmen, antique dealers, painters, artisans, used clothing dealers, and even chainsaw carvers proffer their goods on the first full weekend before the first Monday of the month. Between 5,000 and 7,000 vendors parade their wares, while upwards of 500,000 visitors traipse through more than 10 miles of trails on the hunt for a buy of the lifetime. Times vary. Original grounds open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; The Mountain, a kind of carnival-cum-western town in the Old Mill Marketplace Complex, stays open until 11 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, a “Midnight Madness Sale” offers 50 percent discounts. 7-9 p.m. Winter 2004-Spring 2005: Dec 2-5, Dec 30-Jan 2, Feb 3-6, Mar 3-6, Mar 31-Apr 3, May 28-June 1.

Sotheby’s Dallas
Wed, Nov 17. By Invitation. 6 p.m. sharp. East & Orient. 1123 Slocum St. 214-871-1056.
Mary Jo Otsea, Senior Vice President/World Wide Director/Carpets “Collecting or Furnishing: What Drives the Market in Oriental Rugs and Carpets?” One in a series of lectures sponsored by Sotheby’s/Dallas and held at East & Orient.

380 Flea Market
4200 Hwy 380 (35E to Loop 288 to 380, go east for one mile). Denton. 946-566-5060.
Every Saturday and Sunday. 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

Third Monday Trade Day
Highway 380.(2 miles W. of U.S. Hwy. 75). McKinney. 972-562-5466.
From the ancient (fossils) to the rare (18th-century antiques) to the contemporary (computer hardware) to the futuristic (satellite systems) – you’re bound to find it here. This 100-year-old market also boasts “some of the best specialty foods served in North Texas,” reason alone to come here. Nov. 12-14, Dec. 17-19. 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

First Monday
Corner Santa Fe Rd. and Fort Worth Hwy. Weatherford. 817-598-4124.
You won’t find period furniture or rare collectibles here, but you might enjoy a First Monday outing to Weatherford for its historic interest, and comb through the flea market while you’re at it. Oct. 29-31, Dec. 3-5. 7 a.m.-6 p.m.



Investment Tips
Before you purchase that “priceless” piece, heed the words of these local antique experts.

“Like fine paintings, the better quality antiques – wonderful, original pieces in excellent condition – will appreciate the most.  So if you buy to invest, buy the best.”
     Bob Banks, Banks Fine Art, LLC

“Buy fewer but buy better. Buy only what you love.” 
     Del Saxon Frnka, Del Saxon Antiques

“An antique table can be a great investment, but the real dividend is getting something beautiful you can use. You can’t eat off your stock certificate.”
     John Phifer Marrs

“Buy what you like and admire. Know the provenance.”
     Betty Gertz, East & Orient

“Save up and buy one good antique instead of lots of new pieces. Mix antique and new furniture with contemporary art. Put a good antique in a loft – a Knoll daybed with a Biedermeier drop-front secretary, a Regency rosewood center table with a modern painting.”      
     Kevin Peavy, Joseph Minton Antiques 

“Antiques have to be desirable pieces when you buy them. The French, even in the 18th-century, made some bad pieces of furniture that will never be worth much. Beauty, elegance, and most of all, proportion, are what make heirlooms.” 
     Shelley Stevens, Orion Antiques

“Fine antiques should be passed on down through the generations. We have an armoire that belonged to my great-great-grandfather. Of course value increases, but heritage is priceless.” 
     Bruno de la Croix-Vaubois, Country French Interiors

“Avoid mid-range and ’shipping’ merchandise [so-called because of the practice of shipping containers packed with mediocre merchandise to sell to auctioneers]. Don’t buy because it’s cheap. Go for quality: You’ll never have to worry about losing your money.” 
     Gary Elam, Gary Elam Antiques

“Consider up-and-coming pieces that are not fully appreciated. A good investment is mid-century furniture, such as Danish modern. It’s big on the East and West coasts and becoming popular here.”
     Jerry W. Holley, Dallas Auction Gallery

“Stay with the classics. They’re less likely to fall out of favor or lack fire than other types of collectibles. The watchword for the antique market [like the stock market]: invest in what you know.”
     Dodee Crockett, Merrill Lynch/Dallas

“Make sure you do the proper research and deal with the correct people. Choose a credible dealer with a good reputation and integrity.”
     Philip Maia, Philip Maia Antiques

“Because of the lack of older antique merchandise, don’t be afraid to really invest in pieces that are old and unique, for they are rare.”
     Annick McNally, Le Louvre

“Investing in quality is always best because that is what continues to increase in value.”
     John Buchanan, The Copper Lamp Fine Silver and China

“Buy what you love. All the very best dealers do this – not because it’s important, perfect, or special, but because the pieces that truly appreciate in value begin as the unique pieces we just couldn’t live without.”
     Josef Edwards, Debris Antiques

“Not every antique holds its value. Those limited in quantity, such as an 18th-century French commode, will appreciate, if taken care of. You must decide on the purpose of the piece – is it strictly decorative or do you want it for the long haul?” 
     Wendell Patterson, The Whimsey Shoppe

What Determines Value

Back in the 1930s, the Tariff Act declared an item antique if it was made on or before 1830. This cutoff made sense then, because prior to the Industrial Revolution objects were hand-tooled, automatically endowing them with uniqueness. Later, the rule reverted to a straight 100-year-old standard (75 for dolls). But age alone does not determine value, as the current desirability of a Le Courbusier two-seater or Mies van der Rohe ottoman attests. Design, craftsmanship, rarity, and condition are the key considerations. And it must be correcte, as the French say – kept the way it was originally intended, without alteration.

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